(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge)
This past Saturday I was traveling home back west from the east coast, and witnessed a rather unsettling encounter between a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, and what I would call your typical, “angry white man”. It was a busy day at the airport (the day after Christmas), so tensions were already a bit high, and the seating areas at the gates quite full. The woman found an empty seat and set her backpack on the ground in front of it. She then walked across to the other side of the terminal to throw something away. When she walked back thirty seconds later, an “angry white man” accosted her saying, “Is this your bag?! You should know better given this environment that people dressed like you can’t just leave things laying around like this at an airport. You should be more careful!” Thankfully, this incident happened near the check-in desk, so an airline employee quickly put an end to the verbal assult, and put the “angry white man” squarely in his place. The Muslim woman gathered her things quietly and quickly, and moved to a far corner of the seating area.
I felt nothing short of mortified. I was embarrassed both for her in that terribly awkward situation, and for myself to witness such bigotry. I was repulsed that this is how people that look like me (i.e., white men) think they can treat a complete stranger at the airport for doing absolutely nothing wrong. I wanted to stop the poor woman as she walked by to reassure her that, “We’re not ALL assholes, I promise.” I didn’t go that far, but I thought about it. All I could muster was a scathing stare towards the “angry white man” as I smoldered in my seat.
After getting on the plane, and again sneering at the “angry white man” again as he passed me in the aisle(thankfully taking a seat back near the toilets where he belongs), I couldn’t help but ponder why all this had been able to happen. What has shifted in our current cultural/political climate that allows a man to feel righteous in making such a terrible judgement against some poor, innocent woman? Is the old adage “you reap what you sow” applicable here?…or perhaps something akin to “what you put in, you get out.”? Hmmmmm….. I wonder…
The most intuitive answer, as I’m sure many of you are thinking right now, is the current climate of fear we live in in America, and the western world. Fear perpetrated not only by terrorists, but also by our political leaders. In the United States, we are currently living in a political landscape where the scapegoating of entire ethnic and religious groups (i.e., Mexicans and Muslims) for any and all problems facing this country (stagnating wages, poverty, healthcare costs, terrorism) is seemingly more acceptable than ever.
This current perfect storm of realities – negativity, political cynicism, ambivalence, stupidity, arrogance, fundamentalist thought (both religious and otherwise), are all coming together in a veritable shit storm of very scary political rhetoric, and consequentially, increasingly more extreme behavior of U.S. citizens towards one another.
Is there something missing from today’s discourse that allows people to behave this way, and not only get away with it, but applauded for it? Fear? Yes. Fundamentalist thinking? Of course. But what is at the crux of it all?
In part two of this post (which I will post tomorrow come hell or high water!), I’ll talk about what I heard on the radio this past Sunday morning that added so much clarity to this whole conundrum of fundamentalist certainty that currently plagues our greater collective thought.