In my opinion, some people have been put on this Earth to drive people apart and to pull others down into their insecurities and misery. I, on the other hand, feel that I’ve been put on this Earth to remind others of the connections between us. Conflicts are inevitable, but ultimately, in between our disagreements, we have to co-exist peacefully.
So that first paragraph lets you know, this post is more intellectual than normal. So fair warning to those of you who normally come to this space for silly/charming/smartass/’Bruce Wayne’; I’ve saved most of that energy for Volume II. No offense taken if you want to skip ahead to the jokes, it’s one of things I enjoy most and do best. But this is about the foundation of my house; my ideology and philosophy, why I am and why I do what I do.
This year I celebrated my birthday in Vegas; a month later I flew home to Kansas City. Same airline. As fate would have it, same skycap attendant for both flights. A brother, he recoginzed me immediately the second time (which I was kind of flattered by when you think of how many people pass through LAX daily).
Anyway, here’s the conversation:
Skycap: ‘My man! How was Vegas?’
Me: Vegas always treat me well brotha!
Skycap: ‘So what’s up, the Lakers gonna threepeat?”
Me: I hope so!
(He looks at my driver’s license.)
Skycap: Oh… Um… one second my man!
(He does the 10 foot Walk of Shame to the Feds, who runs my permanent record and finds out I’m a natural born U.S. citizen who’s never been arrested, who has voted in every presidential election since I was 18 years old, and hold down a steady 9 to 5 job. He does a second Walk of Shame back to me with my boarding pass and a shit eating grin on his face…)
Skycap: Yeah man, you know, just doing my job!
Me: I understand, I understand. So, you know as soon as we’re in the air, I’m jumping out of my seat and screaming ‘Allahu Akbar!’ at the top of my lungs right?
(OK, OK, I didn’t really say that last line; I’m not suicidal. Had to throw a little sarcasm in there; I can turn it down but not off. Back on point…)
Way back when sticking my head in a book was my outlet into a world beyond I knew, I took an early interest in American History. It started of course with the story of my ancestors. My roots on both sides are in the rural sections of Louisiana. In other words, I learned as much with my eyes as I did in any book. I recall with a chuckle my father and uncles pointing out to me the trees they picked pecans from as boys; as a kid I just smiled, but in my teenage years it occurred to me these tours always stopped before we got to ‘the Big House’. (It didn’t take a genius to surmise that while our family name is linked to one of the biggest Creole families in the area, to this day I doubt anyone on ‘my’ side of the family has spent any time in the ‘Big House’.)
As I studied, my natural curiosity led me to wonder if there had been any similar stories in American history. The Black Experience (in America) is unique in many ways, least of which is the physical/karmic violence that God forbid will never be repeated. But as I looked for a common thread, I learned that, truth be told, it’s practically ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ for U.S. citizens at some point to be told “Yeah you were born here, but that ‘freedom and justice for all’ line doesn’t apply to you.’ A few examples that immediately come to mind…
We refer to Native Americans as such in part because they were living their lives here before there was an actual ‘United States of America.’ Of course, the reason there is a U.S. of A. is because the United States Army was created to fight the British. And as far as Native Americans are concerned…
During America’s immigration boon, the first generations of the Italians and the Irish immigrated to this country and had to jump through the imaginary ‘You’re not really an American’ hoops. Africans, um, ‘immigrated’ here in mass numbers and…yep. Leap forward a century or two and Japanese-Americans got the ‘royal treatment’ after Pearl Harbor.
Now you may argue I’m pulling the race card left and right, but historically race is always the easiest to point out because, well, you can literally see it. There have been plenty of other ‘Scarlet Letters’ in the history of this country. The most well known is probably Senator McCarthy and the Communist hearings of the 50s. If we’re expanding this analogy to legal battles, lest we forget women in America didn’t always have the right to vote; that had to be won. In present day there’s the ongoing battle by gay couples to have their unions legally recognized as marriages. Those who dislike America or consider themselves ‘Enemies of the State’ will use any or all of these examples (and more) as to why this country is fundamentally flawed. We shout democracy at the top of our lungs here and around the world, and at the same time will sanction, sometimes officially, that our own citizens can’t have equal rights. Truthfully, I can’t say that argument is flat out wrong; I just choose a different perspective…
While it’s true America’s history in dealing with its own citizens is ‘checkered’, it’s also true that in nearly every circumstance some level of progress was made. (We can debate the definition of ‘progress’ another time.) The analogy I often use, as it’s an analogy I’m familiar with, is that of a pledging process. You walk in the first day, you’re nobody, and you’re told and made to feel like you’re nothing. During the process, you stand your ground and learn ‘the rules of the game’. Eventually the process is complete, and you come out of the other end a member.
(If you really want to extend the analogy, it would be interesting to study who becomes ‘the One whose identity completely became the new group’, ‘the One who focuses on the history and getting ‘the next guy’ through the process’, and ‘the One who became an asshole who can’t wait to take out their anger and frustrations on the next guy’. Again, another time.)
When you define yourself as an idealist (as I do), you know going in that the change you seek in the world can’t be measured by ‘tangible’ results. Let’s say hypothetically my goal was for a law to get passed. A law can create an opportunity that didn’t exist before; it can force us to share a classroom or a workspace. But it can’t change human nature or people’s opinions. Only time and life experience can do that. To be honest, I’m not convinced the words I write or the way I choose to carry myself will change any individual’s mind about what they believe ‘Islam’ is, and what ‘Muslims’ are. But if I don’t even attempt to make things easier for the next generation of Muslim Americans, then I’ve guaranteed myself failure.
One of my favorite guy jokes is ‘Man Law’; the code of being a Man and the unwritten rules of what we will and won’t do. Man Law Number One is universally recognized: ‘Protect Your House.’ Depending on the circumstance, its meaning can be physical, verbal, or in this case spiritual. I remember clearly a time when a Muslim woman could wear hijab, and while it was certainly ‘different’, there was nothing suspicious about it. I remember clearly the days of when people discovered a man was a Muslim, the natural curiosity of that man’s life story stopped short of anything that suggested criminal or the ‘T word’. I don’t believe in ‘turning back time’, but I do believe we can get to a point in the future where my children can just be ‘kids’ and will reach early adulthood before having a justified paranoia that some fringe group in this country or in another country is plotting to wipe them off the face of the earth.
So this is my foundation. Apologies if I got preachy at the end, but it’s the state of things as I see them. There’s a line that is being repeatedly crossed now between ‘political showboating for your supporters’ and ‘you went there because you’re not expecting anyone to react.’
Volume II (probably next week) will go more into what happens when you wake up a sleeping dog.
Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.
Peace unto my non-Muslim brothers and sisters.
Thanks for reading.