Yesterday, I had the dubious pleasure of flying home from a visit to my sister. She lives in Virginia, not too far from Washington DC. It also happened to be the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.
I’ll fully admit to being slightly disconcerted by this fact. My time waiting at the airport to board my plane made it clear others felt the same disquiet. It didn’t help that terrorist plots had been uncovered and that every television was tuned into the memorial services at Ground Zero.
It also didn’t help that from my vantage point, at least a dozen individuals of Arabian descent also waited for their planes.
Observations over the next hour made me a bit ashamed of the melting pot we call home.
We clearly hadn’t melted.
Not that airports are the friendliest places to begin with, but the cold-shoulder literally sent goosebumps over my arms. A ring of empty chairs surrounded each small group of dark-skinned, dark-haired, turbaned individuals in an otherwise crowded place. People either averted their eyes or openly stared. Nobody cracked a smile or passed along a kind word.
Folks, I’m just gonna throw this out there. We have all been the outcast at some point. By America’s very nature–by human nature–our heritages come from the oppressed and disgraced. We are all the product of some form of derision based on where we came from or what we believed. Our blood–and our pasts–are not pure. And yet, we strive to break free of the connotations that once defined–in the eyes of those feeling supreme–our genetic history.
We fail to consider that, while we are shaped by our heritages, we should not be stereotyped by the past. Nor should we stereotype our present.
My German ancestors do not make me a Nazi. Heck, by the time World War II broke out, they had already melted in America for generations and fought for their new homeland. Likewise, I couldn’t shoot a bow and arrow to save my life despite the Native American blood that mingles with the rest of my genetic code.
I’ll venture to say that the families in the airport were not responsible for the terrorist attacks a decade ago.
My heart aches for the loss on September 11, 2001. Families were torn apart and a hole was left in our collective conscience–physically via the Twin Towers and emotionally via our current state of cultural fear.
When our flight was called, two young men of obvious Arabian descent stood and gathered their things. They had been sitting beside me, conversing quietly in their native tongue. A total of eight people prepared to board and I commented to the men that our final destination didn’t seem very popular.
Immediately, the masks they wore fell away and they grinned back at me. For one brief moment in the wake of pain and discomfort, they had become human. Accepted and not judged by actions that were not their own. That tiny act of kindness allowed them to melt into the greatness of America.
Dear readers, I challenge you to examine your prejudices, stereotypes and fears as they pertain to the people you encounter each day. Are these biases founded in the reality of your life, or are they part of a more collective mindset? Can you break them and make the difference in someone else’s day? Do you even want to?
You don’t have to publicly answer those questions, but I would like you to consider the legacy you are leaving behind. Because, really, we alone are responsible for our actions and the impact we make in our homes, our communities and our world history.
You are all in my thoughts and prayers.