Moving out of my small, White, farming town and heading to college, I became friends with people who were biracial, Black, Mexican, Guatamalen, Chinese, American Indian, Iranian, Korean, etcetera, and White. I got to see first-hand how they were looked at in a suspicious way in stores; the ignorant comments in class; how they were encouraged to sign up for the easier classes; how we were stopped at the border when I was with a group of "brown people" just trying to go dancing in Canada; the way others would touch or comment on their "beautiful" or "strange" hair.
Now I am married to a wonderful, talented, and loving Pakistani man. Through him and my new family I've seen this "otherness" and ignorance taken to the level of hate. I've heard of hate crimes, of course. In college I remember an area high school having 7 nooses hanging outside one morning. But to know people who have experienced this kind of hate...or to see/hear this hate is a different experience. That's when an ally is really tested and you have to know what level you go to - how do you respond to that comment? How do you support that person? How do you educate others?
I try to keep informed in my daily life and educate people in more informal and relaxed ways (i.e. casual conversations when their guard is down). But don't get me wrong, I love the more direct ways as well. I loved leading discussions in college about these kind of issues with my fellow classmates. I have created art pieces that also directly address issues related to racial injustice. And this is what I would love to do full time with young people - art for social justice. Art can be a non-confrontational way to educate people and start discussions...just like my husband is doing. :) If you know me, you know this is my ultimate goal: to have a job where I can address social justice issues through the arts.
Maybe because of these experiences, and my husband being Muslim, and wanting to do this kind of work, is why I felt really sad, angry, and even a little hopeless when I read this story about a 'Muslim Artist's Exhibit Vandalized. This artist, Anida Yoeu Ali, of the "1700% Project: Otherance," had a wall installation at Sullivan Galleries that challenges the stereotypes of a "Muslim" identity, which was defaced a couple of days ago. Among other comments, some text on the wall read "Kill all Arabs." Sometimes I wonder if things will ever get better. But I know that's not the attitude to have! Anida definitely does not have that attitude. In fact, she has organized a public performance and discussion for Saturday, May 15th at 12:30pm. She is calling on the public to join her in reclaiming the vandalized piece and turning it into a work of healing. I think this is a wonderful idea and I hope TONS of people will turn out to support. I am so disappointed that I have several plans for Saturday already and I am tempted to cancel them in order to attend and show my support. PLEASE, if you can attend, I urge you to do so. Your last name does not have to be Ally to be an ally. ;)