A lot of awful things in this world are done in the name of something to provide justification - killings in the name of God/religion, corruption in the name of GDP growth, torture in the name of state security, slavery in the name of economic benefits.
America since the Civil War has struggled for equal civil rights. Figures like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglas are recognized not only because of their heroism, but because they are constant reminders of all the struggles our country has overcome.
But have we really overcome?
President Obama needing to issue his "long form" birth certificate is a disgrace. The birther argument is essentially a reflection of deep-seated racism. But not only racism, but something even worse. It also reflects that there are Americans that continue to fear those with a different skin color or a strange sounding name. And not only that they fear these people, but that they believe their fear is somehow justified.
Racism is a funny thing. It looks very different depending on where you are. Sometimes it is a seemingly innocent comment and sometimes its riots or violence. In Egypt, it is not taboo at all for someone to comment on not liking "Africans." Or for someone to openly prefer having a nanny or maid of a certain nationality.
There is a mostly expat listserve called Cairo Scholars that I subscribe to, and one of the most memorable debates centered around a post someone had sent out asking for a "Phillipina maid." Her justification was that many Egyptian maids are unreliable or lacked work ethic - and she believed that those from the Phillipines would work harder for the same amount of money.
Another time, while speaking with an Egyptian friend, we began talking about the practice in the US of providing your ethnicity on forms like college applications. He asked what race he would be considered. I - this was early in my Cairo living experience - suggested he could probably put black or African since Egypt is in fact on the African continent. He was extremely offended by this comment saying that he was definitely NOT black - but maybe he was white, he asked?
As a white American female, I stick out in most crowds in Egypt. For the first time in my life I live as a minority. A minority both in religion and ethnicity. No Christmas lights in December, no Easter egg dye kits in the stores. Many Egyptians assume two things about white foreigners: that they are more qualified for jobs and that they are rich. Probably for many people this sounds great - but the first causes resentment and makes it difficult to make true friendships and the second is exceedingly annoying especially if you are in fact a struggling student barely making ends meet.
Once, in Cairo, my doorbell rang and my Asian-American roomate, Tiffany, went to answer it. Generally, I or another of my roomates would answer the door since we spoke better Arabic, but this time Tiffany answered. The guy at the door, one of our neighbors, asked Tiffany if her mistress was home assuming that Tiffany was our housekeeper. It didn't cross his mind that instead Tiffany was in fact an incredibly brilliant and well spoken undergraduate student at a prestigous college in California. Or just that she could be a tenant of the apartment and not the help.
Perhaps America has overcome enough that a negative reaction to being black is at least taboo to say out loud in most places. But is it?
Coming from a relatively small, racially divided town in Florida, racism is quite evident. And there are many people and places in town where it will be not uncommon to hear blatantly racist comments.
One time, my best friend in high school, who is Pakistani-American. was referred to shortly after 9/11 by a school employee working at the front desk as "Osama's neice." And it happened twice. Once after she had been reprimanded by the school.
The entire debate about the "Ground Zero Mosque." Which was neither on ground zero or a mosque - but would have been the problem if it was?
Affirmative action existing.
The statistics on black male incarceration rates. The number of innocent black men gunned down because they are thought to have a gun.
Arizona law to be able to pull over anyone just to ask for residency papers.
Hussein. Barack Hussein Obama. Hussein.
Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally last summer in DC.
Taking America back? Taking it back from whom exactly?
So what is racism? What does it look like?
It looks like all of the above. It looks like an education gap between blacks and whites in America, it looks like racially motivated off-hand comments in Egypt, it looks like any assumption based on skin color alone, and it certainly looks like a group of Americans questioning, for the first time in our history, the birth place of a president because of the color of his skin and father's background.
*Yes I acknowledge this title is based of a Dashboard Confessional title. It fit.
egypt, middle+east, arab+spring, islam, obama, usa