November 14, 2005

Back in my minimum wage days (of which there were many!), years before 9/11, one particular job required somehow getting to a location not accessible except by automobile. I had none, so I shared a ride with my work partner, paying my share of the gasoline.

I bit my tongue hard each time I entered the vehicle. Radio on maximum volume, windows open, pedal to the metal. Capable driver, but thoughtless and a speeder besides: I don't think we did less than 160 kph on any one of those freeway stretches (illegal). Although, capable: it was not likely he was going to get us into any accidents. He also happened to be rather thoughtless about his job -- and I, unhappily the senior of the two, was placed in the position of "suggesting" changes, lest the disciplinary arm fall on us both.

He was black, had held a military officer's position in the Sudan, and was a Muslim. He told me directly that if he were ever stopped by the police, he would claim racism. I am white. To this day he thinks I am racist.

And now, the true irony: it so happened I was studying Islam and Islamic history at the time, very much by choice. When he was telling me his stories, I was listening, learning, asking questions (carefully). I don't know how many others would have winced at the Arabic music of his preference -- but my wincing was not at the music (which I found unique and fascinating) but at the painful volume at which it was played. I made the mistake of asking him, carefully, to turn it down.

He turned it off.

And now, a second story, of a second individual, white, who knew, absolutely and beyond the shadow of a doubt, that every negative thing that had ever happened to him and to the country was the fault of Muslims: and further held that all Muslims could never be truly loyal to their country of birth, and thus should be deported out of hand. Perhaps the only reason he had not taken his conviction that one, deadly step forward was because he still respected, not the law, but the practical descent of law. He had been trying very hard to get an innocent person in our small cluster of offices convicted for last year's rash of break-ins -- I had first-hand reason to learn the absolute for-sure innocence, the one time when I came close enough to catching the true culprits to cause them to drop the laptop they were carrying -- and then he additionally tried to assign blame upon me (wrong place, wrong time) when the building manager had finally had enough.

I see the individual, each person separately; and know what I have seen to be of the individual only. It would be very easy to generalise, no doubt there are other individuals out there who share in some of these traits -- but there are also many who don't. I had and have no solution for this specific situation: we parted ways, I don't think we have encountered each other since. I can only recognise that among the diversity that comprises all people, some (of all colours and creeds!) will try to seek advantage they have not earned; and that some people are not all people or even most people.

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