"Daddy, is she dangerous?" A little boy no older than 5 years old asked as he pointed his tiny fingers at my mother.
My mother and I were in the bread aisle at our local grocery store when I was taken aback by the question from the child who was still youthful enough to have his feet dangle in innocence from the grocery cart. I was not able to understand how someone so juvenescent and full of oblivion could formulate a question so hateful and demeaning. The inquiry pained me from the start, but the response from his father shattered my heart into pieces.
"Yes," he replied. "Don't point."
That was the answer to my question. The three words muttered in disgust by the child's father, the leading influence in his life, changed my life forever. My mother is a Moroccan, Muslim immigrant who came to America 23 years ago to start a new life and create a safe environment for her children. My mother is a woman as peaceful as Gandhi and as loving as Aphrodite, with a non-threatening stature of five foot, four inches. My 60-year-old mother recovering from chemotherapy was the farthest thing from dangerous, but none of this mattered to the strange man who saw nothing but the hijab she wore, labeling her a terrorist.
I wanted to say something to the man, to tell him the only threat in this grocery store was the ignorance he was so influentially oozing onto his son. I wanted to cry and shield the little boy from the hate that his environment was so likely to detrimentally carve into him. I wanted to speak to the father and understand where his deep-rooted loathing sprouted from but was pulled away by mother before I could speak.
"Soondus," She softly spoke to me. "Do not succumb. This happens to me often, let it go. Be the bigger person, it is not safe to provoke a fight."
I recalled the Chapel Hill shooting of three innocent Muslims shot in cold-blooded hatred over a parking dispute. I recalled the headline of the Muslim imam of a mosque in New York City who was shot dead while walking home from afternoon prayers. Images of all the dirty looks given to my mother in public and the looks of discontent when her voice uttered a Middle Eastern accent clicked through my head like a slideshow of unfortunate events. A presentation that lasted too long. How was I expected to let something like this go? I am someone who does not refrain from saying things I mean and am passionate about, but the look of hate in the man's eyes forced me to vacate. I felt helpless and vulnerable and never wanted to feel that again. I never wanted anyone to feel like that ever.
That day not only did I witness the strong yet unexplainable abhorrence and racism people can express, but I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I want to help make America the best it can be and not the one Donald Trump loves to describe because I can tell you right now America has never been great. Not when slavery was around, not when Jim Crow was around, not when immigration camps were prevalent and still prevalent and especially not now with racism, stereotypes, and inequality still around. As a woman and a minority, I want to help diminish prejudice in America, through the power of politics, writing and social justice. I want to prevent the racism my mother had to endure but also prevent the hatred the dangling size one foot had obliviously inherited as well.
Growing up in an extremely diverse environment, I remember the initial shock I felt following the little boy's question. In my head, I thought, "No way I heard that. There's no way. I must've heard him wrong." But then I looked at his father and his chilling composure and the slow nod of his head and felt as if every part of me wanted to explode. Despite his frightening expression, I felt the sudden need to understand. I wanted to open his brain and search deep in his logic to understand how a patterned scarf on the top of my mother's head tied together with a flower pin translated to danger, when all she was doing was wheeling a shopping cart in a grocery store.
The most ironic part for me to grasp was why the son was berated by his father for pointing, but his hurtful words went unpunished. I was close to saying, "Your priorities make absolutely no sense, and I am terrified of the influence you can potentially have on your son." My mother's grip was the only thing that saved me from being exposed to this man's hatred. I would have never expected to hear something like that in the town I was from and thinking back on that now that was extremely naive for me to believe.
Racism is in the backyards of all of our towns, found behind the counters of all of your businesses and sometimes spotted in aisle three of your grocery store while shopping for bread. It is a problem that needs to be acknowledged and shut down at its roots. There was not one but two victims in the bread aisle that day and as a country built on the foundations of freedom and equality, we need to put an end to hate and racism sooner rather than later.
I want people of color to feel safe in the bread aisle of a grocery store. I want people of color to feel safe in their towns. I want people of color to feel safe in their homes and I want people of color to feel safe living their everyday lives. I want to go back to that day to look the little boy in the eye and say, "Yes, your daddy is dangerous. Please do not grow up to be like him. You have the choice to love this world for all of the diversity it offers and all of the amazing, beautiful things the contributed differences can produce. I can assure you, you will lead a much more fulfilling lifestyle fueled by love and powered by acceptance than you would ever if led by hate. Never forget that despite someone's differences in skin tone, or wardrobe or features, that everyone here is human just like you... buying bread just like you."