I am a white woman married to an Indian man with a Muslim last name. We are not Muslim, but because of our name people assume that we are. Just over a year ago we moved to a rural area without much diversity. Since moving here, I have tried to volunteer at two different Christian organizations (a pregnancy crisis center and a girl's group home). Both places were seeking volunteers, and were happy to have me when they only knew my first name. But as soon as I filled out the volunteer forms and they saw my last name, I never heard from them again. I tried to call to follow up, but they did not return my calls or my emails. There are also many cars around here with anti-Muslim bumper stickers. I'm not used to dealing with discrimination, and I don't know what to do about it. I am even more concerned with what my children are going to experience. They both have Arabic first names and brown skin. Anybody have any tips to help me cope? DS is 2 and starting part-time preschool next month. I don't think he should have any problems yet, being so young, but I just don't know.
How do you deal with anti-Muslim discrimination?
I am sorry you're experiencing this. Unfortunately, I don't think there is much you can do except to continue putting yourself "out there" as a positive contributor to society. I am an American with a Western name, but I have a mixed background and a dark complexion - I look Middle Eastern. My DH is Iranian, and lighter-skinned than I am. I experienced some negativity before, but clearly more since I married someone with a Muslim name and a *gasp* accent. There's no way to hide, and no use in it, either. Some people will come around and have the positive experience of getting to know you and your family, and others might not be able to.
Thanks. I am involved with La Leche League, which is nice since they accept ALL mothers, regardless of race, religion, etc. I also just started an LLL playgroup which meets for the first time today :) I'm really hoping this playgroup works out and is a positive experience for my DS. I'm also hoping that by putting myself out there in the community in a positive way other people will see and become a little more open-minded.
First of all, is there any place where people tend to gather and meet in your area besides in a Christian context? A pub? Some kind of hobby group you would feel like being a part of? Our even a community group for your area, gathering to discuss what to do about that hole in the road to school and other things like that. Both you and your husband should make a point of joining these kind of groups, even if you will be stared at at first it will show a willingness to be part of the community and give other people a chance to actually get to know you. Usually, just such a thing as sharing a cup of coffee while you discuss the state of the biggest tree in the playground makes people more relaxed towards you and is the first step towards making their assumptions melt away and replacing them with a real image of you and your family.
So, even if it might be hard to find the time, make a point of being active in the community.
Also, such a thing as taking a walk around the area with your son when the weather is good is a good thing to do. Stopping when you see a cute, friendly dog and asking if you can say hello. Praise the dog. Ask the owner how old it is, what breed etc. if you don't already know. Then introduce yourself if it is a stranger as "x x living in house x". You will probably get the other person's name. Say it was nice meeting the person and the dog and be on your way. When you come home, write down the name of the person and the dog. Usually, these brief meetings with strangers are discussed by other people, who will ask: "oh, what did you make of her?" and hopefully the other person will answer "okay...nothing strange." Or something along those lines. It helps to break down the image the community might have of you as "Different/Other".
Thirdly, if there is any kind of problems with the playgroup because of your son's name or skin colour address the issues. Don't be afraid of conflicts when it truly matters. I don't think that it will really be that big problems with your son and the other kids at the tender age of two. Small children don't tend to connect a name or colour of skin with anything in particular. What problems there can be is other parents not wanting their children to have anything to do with yours, or even the preschool teachers discriminating your son by taking the sides of the other kids when there's a fight and other things like that. Keep an eye on it.
I very much wish there was a magic cure to all the problems you will face in the years your son is growing up, but the best you can do is try to make friends with people who are open to it and NEVER accept discrimination against your son. Be it a friend of his suddenly saying "I can't play with you because my dad says so" or a teacher repeatedly failing him in a certain class just because he can. It happened to my sister when we were growing up, just because the teacher didn't like her. And then, we were not battling racism back then (since we're of Swedish/Danish decent, blue eyed and blonde and fair skinned and all that). All we were battling was a teacher not liking her!
Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply. The play group went well, and we are planning more. DS will be going to a Montessori school. One of the reasons I chose that school is I think they are more accepting of diversity than some of the others around here. I made sure to introduce myself by my first and last name the first time I toured the school, and nobody seemed to care or react at all to my name. I'm planning on volunteering at the school and getting involved as much as possible. I think (I hope!) it will be a good experience for all of us.
My step-son went to the local Catholic school last year (DH is Catholic). The first 2 months of Kindergarten he came home crying everyday because the white kids wouldn't play with him, the white kids said they don't like brown kids, the white kids made fun of his name, etc... I initially tried to voluneer as a room mother, but the other moms and the teacher completly ignored me, wouldn't return my calls or emails, even scheduled a room mother meeting and planned the entire year, and didn't tell me anything about it until after. I quit trying to be a room mother and filed a complaint with the Archdiocese, but never heard back. I really wanted to pull DSS out of school and homeschool him, but DH wouldn't let me. He said the kids needed to work it out on their own. DSS eventually did make some friends, but it broke my heart to see him struggle so much. I don't want to see DS go through the same thing.
DH just moved out of state for work and took DSS (and DSD - she never complained of having any problems at school) with him. So I am on my own here, and hoping for the best!