Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Not Politics

When it comes to social media, you'll never see me linking to political organizations or parties or figureheads. The battle lines are already drawn and to quote Grace Paley, "I never argue where there's real disagreement."

So that's why I surprised even myself when I said something on facebook about the proposed Quran burning in Gainesville. I said something because I love Gainesville and I don't think that pastor is at all respresentative of the people who live there. And because, at least at first, it seemed that the media was not reporting how small that church's membership is. It's just a few individuals who kicked up all this dust.

And then I felt bad, because I violated my own neutrality policy.

And then I stopped feeling bad, because sometimes something should be said.

I live in Columbus, Ohio. There are a lot of Somalis living here. They're Muslims. A few of them are my friends. I've been out and about with those friends and there have been very few uncomfortable incidents. In general, Columbusites are relentlessly friendly. It's one of our best and worst traits. But one of the uncomfortable incidents was at a church.

I was teaching Nadifa to drive. Nadifa is in her late-fifties. She is well-educated in her own language, but her English is coming along very slowly. I was surprised when she said she wanted to learn to drive. Many of the women her age are reticent to leave their houses.

We needed a place to practice parking and so we found a very large church with a very large and empty parking lot. It was a weekday evening and no one was around. I set up cones in the corner of the parking lot. After about 45 minutes a woman came out of the building and asked us to leave in a not very friendly way. She said that children belonged to that church and that she couldn't let us on their property. It would be dangerous. Of course there were no children anywhere near us.

That may very well be that church's policy. It's plausible. But I suspected it wasn't true. I suspected she saw Nadifa's hijab and didn't want her there. And I could tell by the look on Nadifa's face that she didn't just suspect this, she knew it. She didn't understand the exchange between me and the church lady, but she heard the tone of voice.

Now the woman from the church was African American, and there's no love lost here between the African Americans and the Somalis. So the subtext is complicated. But the results of incidents like that really aren't. How eager is Nadifa going to be, the next time someone suggests she leave the little Somali enclave?

And pundits will continue to write op-eds about how the Somalis do not assimilate, and how they do not leave their "ghetto."

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