I am going to try to not be as specific as humanly possible with this one without explicitly calling out my employer. Bare with me on my vague story-telling.
So while I’ve been job “hunting” (see earlier post), I’ve been working as a waitress at an awesome, family-owned restaurant. Not only is the food incredible, but my boss and her parents (who go by ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’) make an awesome managing team. Along with my co-workers, the entire staff have proved to create a great womyn friendly, queer lovin’, non-culturally appropriating space. SCORE.
Today I had my first solo-shift with Mama. In between customers, she taught me how to make a few dishes, asked for my take on her blood pressure medication, and managed to hear her opinions on pretty much anything that briefly came up.
(regarding my parents who had a “date night” at the restaurant this past weekend) “She’s your real mother?! She’s so… white… I thought she was your father’s girl friend or new wife.”
Uhm yes she is “white” because her great grandparents immigrated from Norway. Most people of Scandinavian heritage have a fair complexion as these said countries are well removed from the equator. etc. etc. Was what I wanted to say. But how inappropriate would this have been? So instead I said, “Yeah, she’s my biological mother. I just look a lot like my Dad.” While this was more appropriate and lead her to shrug her shoulders and brush it off – rather than widening her eyes and raising her left hand like she does to so many customers and passersby that anger her – I still felt like I could have said something more.
I do give my Egyptian, Middle Eastern identity much more credit. It’s an identity I find myself defending and standing with in wake of global and national Islamaphobia, the “War on Terror,” and Western imposition (both physically and fiscally) on peoples living in the Middle East. This has left my Norwegian identity on the back burner throughout my young adult life. So am I to blame for receive this minor offensive comment? I mean, when she first met me she asked where my name was from and I replied “I’m Egyptian.” I think so. But this isn’t to say I shouldn’t have stood up for my mother. Her relationship to my Father, her conversion to Islam, her strong parenting role for my siblings and myself, and her humor and great hair I inherited (okay, maybe I’ll skip the last one… maybe).
“Sheesh, Shadia! Don’t keep the register open for so long. One time, this man robbed our place! *whispers* He was, ya know, black.”
I should also add that this story continued. She recalled that after the man took money out of the register and tip jar and ran, one of the waiters at the time chased him, caught him and brought him back to the restaurant. The man explained that he was just hungry and needed the money and Mama decided not to press chargers. Cool?
My response: Nothing. I shut the register and poured myself a glass of water. But I was angered at her comment that he was black was meant to ellicit a response like “Of course he was!” I am internally slapping myself for not having a correctional comment that was relevant to her concerns. I have read countless articles and blogs on perpetuating anti-blackness and discussed these issues in academic settings and with like-minded folks. But what does that even count as when I remain silent and thus tolerant?