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What do you think of when you see me?

Written By: aaminahm on April 8, 2009 3 Comments

Today I watched a video of Hutu Muslims in Rwanda that saved the lives of Tutsis who were being executed by other Hutus. It got me thinking about a conversation I had yesterday. I went to Verizon to have my cell phone swapped out for one that worked. John, the guy behind the counter sheepishly asked me if I wore hijab (the Islamic veil). I smiled and nodded.  At this point I was unsure if he were Muslim, and hinting to me because he was at work, or if he was proud that he knew an Arabic word. It turned out to be the latter. He said “If you don’t mind me asking when did you become Muslim?” I said, “1996.” He said “Oh that was before everything happened.” I knew what he meant by “everything”.

He began to tell me that he took a course on Islam in America at Davis. He then said “You know unfortunately many people who see you don’t see anything but road side bombs.” Now, I was partially surprised. Or maybe not. It was such a startling thing for someone to say.  For the most part I think the same as Zora Neal Hurston.  Hurston said “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

It’s hard to articulate. The majority of my life isn’t spent concerned with what others think about me. But then this is the second incident within days where I felt like my hijab was speaking louder than I was.Therefore, I felt compelled to speak. So I thought I should respond.

I told John that I have always been an idealist. As an idealist it is my hope, and prayer, that those individuals with good in there hearts will overcome and outlast those who are corrupt. But the idealist in me has to reconcile with the realist. Realistically speaking I am forced to understand that change won’t happen overnight. In the meantime I wanted to speak from behind this veil. Thank you to the Hutu Muslims and those others in the world who have come to the rescue. From the bottom of my heart:

When you see me you see rode side bombs!?!

Your earth shatters.

You hear fire alarms.

When I see you,

I see the disdain in your eye.

My heart is broken.

I wonder… why?

My purpose isn’t your pleasure.

What is there for me to say?

I don’t even try.

I can’t speak for everyone who looks like me

If I tried I’d fail by many a degree

I am human and Black, and Muslim and more

than what you can’t see.

So, I demand that you let me be!

I don’t want your sympathy

All I want is liberty.

My life’s work is my struggle

to be free.

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3 Responses to “What do you think of when you see me?”

  1. Youki on: 8 April 2009 at 10:57 pm

    yeah it’s interesting how certain artifacts, like an article of clothing or an image of a roadside bomber, can obscure and even inhibit a fuller representation of a culture. It seems so Orwellian, that an image can expand to fill out “a person” or even “a culture” in someone’s mind.

    Beautiful poem!

  2. aaminahm on: 9 April 2009 at 11:00 am

    Thanks Youki! I am still trying to process all of this. I am curious about what makes people think the way they do. There was a time when I would have written people off. Now, I am taking the time to try and understand.

  3. daveski on: 10 April 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Hurston’s words are priceless!

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