A Word about Racism

I was in the honey shop, where people come to buy honey during the day. We are open every day and we usually only get a handful or two of customers, so the shop is often empty and when customers do stop by it’s a nice, personal visit. We often chat, and after so many years, many of them are my friends. But there were no customers at the moment, and I was taking the time to clean things up a bit. I was scrubbing a coffee mug in the shop kitchen when an intern bounced through the door that attaches the room to the rest of the farm house.

“Can you do me a favor?” Hannah asked before she had come to a full stop next to the sink.

“Of course,” I answered without even thinking. I had only known her a couple weeks but I would have done anything she asked. There was something about her that just…. Pulled me.

“I’m racist.” She said flatly.

I was surprised to hear someone say such a thing out loud. I turned from the sink full of dishes I was washing to look at her. Hannah is 20 years old. A brunette with wavy hair and huge brown eyes and an easy smile. She’s from Israel. She found my farm online and was staying with me for a couple months to learn about how we live and what we do.

“Toward who?” I asked. I almost didn’t believe it. This girl was so nice, and so happy, and so much fun to be around. I couldn’t imagine her hating anyone for the color of their skin. What an ignorant thing! She’s such a smart girl. I felt offended by her statement, and protective of my tribe. It was an uncomfortable feeling. I really, really liked this girl. But this was unsettling everything I thought I knew about her. And yet, she had said it out loud. She was owning it, knowing full well what it meant.

“Towards Muslims and people who look like Muslims,” she said. My eyes widened… I set my rag on the edge of the sink so I could focus on what she was saying. This was not a favor. But maybe she was leading up to something. And anyway, I suddenly had questions. This must be a story.

“Why?” I asked her, while I folded my arms across my chest.

“Well… It’s about my life in Israel. My parents moved there and settled in disputed territory,” she told me with her endearing Israeli accent that made all of her “th” sounds very pronounced and all of her words carefully articulated in a way that native English speakers don’t bother with. “Which meant that on the hill across from my house, that land was also disputed. And there were always Palestinians and Israelis fighting over the houses. I watched them shoot at each other from my balcony.”

“What?” I interrupted. “You watched people shoot at each other from your balcony?” I repeated what she had just said because I was trying to imagine being a child and watching that kind of thing.

“Yes,” she continued. “There was a hill across,” she waived her arm out in front of her as though it was across the street, “and it had a house on it, and there were Israelis living there, and then Palestinians came and killed them and took the house, and then Israelis came and killed them and took it back,” she said. I was thinking about all the stories I had heard about the Israeli settlements and the political discussions of their legality and the war between Israel and Palestine, and it started to sink in that this pretty 20 year-old girl had seen it first-hand. We would talk more about this later.

“There was a market down in the valley,” she waived her hand below her, “and they would shoot into the market. They would put bombs there and blow people up,” she said. I had read about this too.

“Some of my family members were murdered by Palestinians,” she explained. “My uncle. My cousin.”

I pursed my lips and processed what she was saying. I realized that she had lived a life that I couldn’t imagine.

“So now, when I see people who have darker skin and they wear the keffiyeh…” she snapped her fingers while she searched for the English.. “the turban or the…” she waived her hand around her face “the hijab… I am afraid of them and I immediately think they are going to murder me or my family.”

I internally gasped. “Yeah… That’s racism. And religious prejudice.” I muttered. But on the inside, I was thinking Wow. This girl has identified the source of her racism and it comes from extreme and traumatic life experiences. It made the source of so much other racism seem all that much more ridiculous. This is human psychology, actually.

“Yes. I’m racist towards Muslims. And I know this….” She said. She looked down at her pink chucks and shuffled her feet. “So…” she tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked up and off to the side of the room. “I want to change that. And I have a plan. But I could use your help.”

“huh?” How could I help with this?

“I know that my racism is because of what I’ve experienced…. What I’ve seen and felt and lived,” she said while she leveled her gaze into my eyes. “So I figure that if I want to feel differently, I need to overwhelm those memories with new ones.”

She smiled at me while I leaned toward her and she continued to explain.

“If there are Muslim people, or even just people that look middle eastern, that come to the store to shop, could you come and get me so that I can hang out while you help them?” she asked me. “I want to meet them and have friendly, nice interactions, so that I can have a million more good memories of Muslims than bad ones, and eventually it will change my reaction and my feelings toward them.”

My mouth was open. I stood there for a split-second staring at her. This is the favor she is asking me for. This simple thing, with such a profound objective. At twenty years old. Twenty years old.

“Of course,” I nodded emphatically. “Of course I will.” I was thinking of my Muslim and middle eastern customers, whom I adore. They are such beautiful people. She would love them.

I reached for the towel hanging over the sink and turned back to my dishes. “Thank you!” she said as she happily bounced back into the hallway. I picked up another glass and started washing it. Holy Shit….. I thought to myself. She recognized that she is racist. She identified the source of her racism. And she made an incredibly insightful and logical plan to correct it. At twenty years old.

“Well, that gives me hope for the future,” I said aloud to myself as I rinsed the glass and placed it on the drying rack. “Thank you, Hannah.”

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