Problems Which Are Not Our Own

Another book that I’ve recently finished reading is “How Does it Feel to be a Problem” by Moustafa Bayoumi. It is basically a collection of stories which detail the experience of being Arab in America. It is another book that I would highly recommend if you’re still looking for a late summer or pre-fall read.  I won’t spill the beans by telling all about the book, but it shows an array of stories that include the perspectives of an American soldier, a store owner, and a college student. That’s all I will reveal! But I think I had an interesting experience of my own when I was carrying the book around with me (since I can’t tell you about the book, I’ll tell you about me…with the book).  I always carry a book with me to work or wherever I go so that just in case I get a free minute I can do a little reading. I happened to bring HDIFTOAP with me to work one day and a white co-worker noticed me reading it. She didn’t mention it the first day she saw it, but I brought it the following day as well.  She picked it up and asked, “Are you an Arab???” I told her I am not and she followed with, “Well I don’t think you need to be carrying that book around.” I am going to try not to read too much into her statement, but I think it’s odd that she would feel uncomfortable with me having a book about being Arab.  I can only imagine if this is how someone may react to a non-Arab having the book, how they would respond to an actual Arab.  Actually, I can make an ass out of you and me by assuming I know how she responds because we deal with insurances that are outsourced to Middle Eastern countries (please correct my ignorance if I am not using the right locations and people). Whenever we get a representative on the phone they give us very “Americanized” names such as Joe or Sandy. Now, I also interject here to say that if I sound ignorant of foolish in that last sentence please feel free to call me out. I don’t want to practice problematic or insensitive behavior because I have heard that many people translate their names into the English counterpart so using the term “Americanized” just feels odd. My coworker always makes a comment about how she knows that these aren’t their real names, but she says it in a different manner than the way I wrote it. Many of the representatives have accents and there can be a communication problem on both ends.  My co-worker as well as my supervisor, who is black, (so that it can be noted that the white coworker isn’t the only one who practices this behavior) get agitated with the representatives because of the difficulty there is in trying to get them to understand what we are saying and vice versa. This agitation boils over into their tones and they can be very short with the person on the line. Most times they will ask to be transferred back to America to speak to a representative in the states.  This one particular female coworker always has to make a comment about how Americans need jobs and insurance companies are outsourcing to “some guy answering phones in a tent in the desert.” Now the job market is a conversation that is WAAAY over my head, but I understand both points. There are Americans out of work who need jobs BUT there are other countries that have unemployed citizens that want work just as much as we do. Another point is that it is not the rep’s fault that the insurance company decided to outsource. They’re just looking for a source of income so that they can provide for themselves.  I remember speaking to a young lady who works in the call center for AT&T. She told me she had just graduated college, and I told her I could imagine that it was tough trying to juggle school and work. She said, “It was really hard, but when I walked across that stage and got my degree it was all worth it. All of the struggle and hard times were worth it.”  After that slight side trail I don’t remember my actual point…..OH YEA! My point was that there can be a lack of sympathy for other people who are different from us. At least I think that was my point. One of the reasons that I wanted to read the book in the first place was so that I can hear accounts of other people’s experiences. I want to know about the problems or the triumphs in someone else’s life because it’s good to know about more than just me and people like me. I’m black so I have been treated differently in some cases due to my race and I have had family members who have gone through some odd experiences due to race as well. My cousin was told by a older white gentleman that she was “very pretty and different from those other colored girls.” And let me tell you, if you think it’s a compliment to say someone is “pretty for a black girl” you need to scratch that thought.  There are even different experiences within the black race, particularly between lighter skin tones and darker skin tones. But what I mean is that I can relate to the Arab experience, but I don’t know the whole of it and I would like to remain open to learning about what many of them go through.  I think one of the reasons I do not care for being snide or rude to other people is that I got a sample of prejudice practice in the 5th grade. Our music teacher at Batesville Intermediate School held a camp for girls during the summertime. I don’t even remember what kind of camp it was or what the teacher’s name was. That was 30 years ago…One day the teacher split the girls up into two groups without telling us why. She put me in group 1 on one side of the table and the other girls in group 2 on the opposite side. My friend Vidisha was in group 2. The teacher then proceeded to give all of us girls in group 1 crowns and candy. She gave us juices and proceeded to talk and laugh with us. She complimented us and just really exaggerated in her interactions. To be honest, all of us girls in group 1 were visibly looking uncomfortable after we noticed she was not interacting with group 2 at all. We were mostly trying to silently communicate to each other and say, “What the hell is going on here?!?” Or in 5th grade terminology, “what the heck is going on?!?” Group 2 did not receive any snacks at all and in fact were completely ignored.  At some point my friend Vidisha started crying. She wasn’t all out bawling, but she was crying to the degree that everyone in the room stopped, including the teacher.  The teacher went over and asked her what was wrong, why was she crying.  She said that no one had ever treated her that way and she expressed how much it hurt her.  The teacher, who was at this point trying to console her, then explained that she had done that to show us how much it can hurt someone when you treat them differently because of who they are. That experience has stuck with me ever since. I admit that it stuck with me the most because it wasn’t a random girl crying, though that would have been significant as well. It stuck the most because that was my friend being treated badly and crying as a result. She looked nothing like me. We are not the same ethnicity and we don’t even practice the same religion. But because I knew her those things did not matter. People I am familiar with have problem looked at me and said the same thing when they witnessed something I was going through. you ever read something from or about someone and feel like you know that? In a way we do. As we look more into other people’s stories we become better at relating to them and this can steer of from being inconsiderate of their problems. These are things that stir up sympathy in us. When we can relate to others we can remain accepting of their problems even if their issues don’t directly affect or reflect our own. Anyway, I hope you’ll read the book and get a better feel of it than just the glimpse from my long, overdrawn post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s