Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sun, stars, and clouds at the picnic

Top Kill didn't work. The oil's thisclose to hitting Florida. The CEO of BP, who evidently learned public relations from Marie Antoinette, "wants his life back," unlike all the sea creatures and the many people along the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods rely on fishing and tourism. The Dow's going slideways. And Israel raided a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza, killing 9 workers and detaining hundreds more. Cheerful, cheerful stuff.

As usual, my belly dancing instructor hosted a huge picnic at her home on Memorial Day where her intermediate and advanced students, her daughters, and some of her friends performed. She's a Christian woman from Egypt, and the event has a distinctly Middle Eastern flair. I performed a solo dance to the Cure's "Let's Go to Bed". My instructor's always telling me I need to be sexier and more flirtatious--or, as my best friend Yemaya O'Reilly said, "You need to slut it up." With that song, it was fairly easy, plus I could play to my wife. When L'Ailee's eyes go big and dark and she bites her lips, I know I'm doing it right! Yemaya and I also had a tandem performance to Gangstarr's "Dwyck", which is a forever favorite of ours. When we heard Guru died earlier this spring, we knew we needed to perform to that one.

The dancing went very well. I contributed four pina colada pies and some vaguely Asian-inflected pasta salads; those went over well, too. (I personally can't have mayonnaise-based salads because I have egg allergies, and lots of people dislike them or worry about them turning in the heat anyway.) My classmates and I always enjoy seeing each other outside the classroom, with the spouses and partners and children we always talk about.

Can you hear the "but" coming? It was nice as usual and our hosts were terrific, but...there was a pall over the whole thing. Many of the attendees were Middle Eastern and/or Muslim. For Muslims in the NYC area, a huge topic of conversation is the knee-jerk xenophobic reaction that some New Yorkers, and people around the USA, are having to the idea of a Muslim community center/mosque near the Ground Zero site. The other hot topic was the Israeli raid on the flotilla. People were quite angry, of course. I could understand that.

What I couldn't understand was the frosty attitudes I was getting from a couple of Muslim women. They didn't even want to eat anything I'd contributed. I figured it might have been because I'm queer and they saw me with L'Ailee. We didn't have our tongues down each others' throats or anything, but it does become obvious to even the densest and most sheltered people that we're a couple. Homophobia comes in a multitude of guises; we've learned that. Then I heard one caution her young daughter away from me. "Don't talk to that woman in the white. She is a Jew." I knew she meant me. I was the only one in the direction she pointed to wearing white, for one thing. I decided to speak to her.

"I'm not Jewish," I said.
"You wear the star." She pointed to my necklace.
"It's a pentacle. It means I'm Pagan." I didn't think she'd exactly warm to that, either, but I kept going. "Look, five points, not six. But even if I was Jewish, that's an awful thing to say to your kid."
"It really is not your business! You heard about the Israelis attacking the aid workers! Jews hate us!"
"I'm so sorry you feel bad. I understand."
"No, you don't understand!"
"Maybe I don't. But it won't help anything to teach her not to talk to Jews. If you're planning on living in New York, she's gonna be in a bad way if she can't talk to any Jewish people." At this point, my instructor/hostess intervened. I felt so awful for her, being in that situation. I apologized for making her party awkward for her. She apologized for her friend-of-a-friend's ignorance to me, not that she had to or even could, really.

It bothered me tremendously. The hatefulness wasn't about me, of course. Even if I were Jewish and wearing the Star of David rather than a pentacle, it still wouldn't have been about me. It would have been about what she thinks Jewish people are, which is different from actual Jewish people. (Most of the ones I know think Israel is acting way the hell out of line, for one thing.) That's the definition of prejudice--you know one thing about a person and think that's all you *need* to know.

I know what it's like to be taught prejudice as a child. I've written lots of posts about the homophobia and religious intolerance of my mostly Assemblies of God maternal relatives. I spent most of my time growing up with them, and communicate with them more simply because things got awkward with some of my paternal relatives after my father died. My paternal aunts never liked my mother, so my mother kept my brother and I away from them. Ride with me, please; I'm coming to a point.

Some of my older paternal relatives were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Some of the younger ones were Neo-Nazis. They left these groups, but often retained at least some of their racism. My paternal grandmother was loving to her grandchildren, but remained virulently racist her entire life. My cousin S. and I knew that if we were to fall in love with a black person, she'd disown us. S. is one year older than me, and our grandmother lived with him and his parents. We had a bond just because we were the only people our age at the family gatherings. We also went to the same high school. Sometimes, our grandmother would go off on a rant about black people, and other relatives would agree with her nonsense. S. and I would flee to his bedroom and play games until their voices died down. We went to school with black kids and teachers. We liked black musicians, actors, and athletes. We knew they were wrong. What we really hated was how red, twisted, and downright ugly their faces would get. It frightened us even when we were small. We didn't ever want to get that way about anyone or anything, and we told each other so as we sunk each others' Battleships and Connected Four.

I've seen my maternal cousins get scared of their older relatives' prejudices and choose to refuse hatred. Of course, in their case, they have the Other--queer, non-Christian, and/or liberal--in their own family in the form of my brother and I. I've seen the likes of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly scare children with their angry red faces and shrill vocal tones. I hope that woman's daughter also sees how quite literally ugly prejudice can be, and meets Jewish people who disprove the hateful lies she's being taught, and chooses to refuse hatred. It really upsets me to see children actively being taught prejudice of any kind. Parents will inevitably pass down the worst of themselves as well as the best, but this is a conscious bequeathing of the worst in them to their children.

Whatever side they're on, soldiers and guerrilas and the people who mobilize them were all children once.

Links, links:

What today's SCOTUS decision regarding Miranda rights means.

Girls are a majority in NYC schools' gifted programs, and some people really want to know why, or just apply their pet theories. If this adds anything, my elementary school's gifted program classes, 25 years ago, also had slight female majorities, and then it went to slight male majorities in advanced placement and honors classes in high school.

Why Einstein was so danged smart. It's because his parents played him the right DVDs and sent him to the right private preschool, of course!

The National Zoo is offering a terrific once-in-a-lifetime trip to go see pandas in China, including their Tai Shan in his new home. Oh, I *wish*....

Those of you who've been suffering through the Stanley Cup Finals--oh, and any Blackhawks or *shudder* Flyers fans out there--may have heard plenty about the Flyers' Chris Pronger's jerkass behavior, including taking the game pucks even though his opponents won. The wife and I both hate his vile guts. (He hurt a lot of Detroit Red Wings players when he was on Western Conference teams.) Leave it to Down Goes Brown, everyone's favorite NHL humor site, to dig up other jerkass moves by Pronger over his long career!


alan said...

Great blog! Having had my teeth put through my lip for telling my Dad he should quit using "the N word", I know a bit of what you speak!

Hopefully you made someone think the other day...

It seems every sport has players who exemplify the worst as well as the best. I grew up hearing the name Ty Cobb bandied about as a "great baseball player" along with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. 20 years ago or so, a friend who was really "into" baseball told me that Ty Cobb was considered the "dirtiest" player of his time; that he would sit in the dugout with a file sharpening his cleats to points, then slide into base feet first so no one would try to tag him.

Closer to my heart is Ben Davidson and what he did to Len Dawson 40 years ago...an illegal hit he's still proud of to this day!

As I just got up they're saying the oil is 9 miles from Pensacola...this is something we're going to be dealing with for generations! My last blog was about Minamata disease; I think we're going to spawn a whole new category of these between the oil and the toxic dispersants British Petroleum is using!


MoonRaven said...

Thanks for writing this. You are so on target here.

I can't stand what Israel is doing to Palestine but confusing Israel with Jewish people is awful. There is enough antisemitism in the world as it is, and besides, even if we are talking about Israelis, I wouldn't want people to think I support our government's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq just because I live in this country.

As you say, there is something awful about teaching children prejudice. (And don't get me started on BP and the gulf...)

Raven said...

A fantastic, thought-provoking post. I can't believe that woman acted that way towards you based on the fact that she thought you were wearing a Star of David. That's so sad.

I'm glad you had a good time with your belly dancing despite everything.

Have a great day.