My husband tells a story about the moment he realized that racism was still alive and strong in America. It happened on the first day he arrived to America at the JFK Airport in New York. He tells the story in a sort of a funny/serious way trying to say that there is some luck in the unlucky immigrant situation we find ourselves in. "At least we are white," he says when the refugee crisis becomes a topic of the social media sites and hateful people come out saying that refugees should go back to where they came from.
His theory is that more brown or black you are, as a refugee, the more feared you are and the worse time you will have to adjust. You will be scrutinized more, at the airports, at the government institutions, entering the country from visiting the relatives oversees, etc. He is aware that you don't have to be a refugee with a dark complexion to experience discrimination at every corner of American society, but what does he know? He is white.
The story goes: He landed at the JFK airport in a Boeing 747, operated by Uzbekistan Air. He was one of the few white people on board of the plane. Uzbek people are Turkic group of people (according to Wikipedia), I didn't know this myself, and they are dark-skinned. So, my lucky, white-skinned husband arrived on this flight excited to move to America, the land of the free, filled with hopes and dreams for a better future. As he filed out of the plane and towards the immigration line he pondered any potential problems he might encounter going through the immigration. Is his visa going to be okay? What questions will they ask him? The line was pretty long at the "visitor" immigration counter and he stood, anxious to cross the border. Suddenly one of the immigration attendants asked him and another man to go over to the "citizens only" counter. He was scared to death, as he puts it, thinking they will take him to a back interrogation room, asking about his intentions and why he wanted to come to the USA. "I realize that I was legally entering the country, but there was always a possibility that something was wrong with the paperwork." Being from Bosnia, he doubted the government's ability to issue correct documents without a laborious process. Bosnian government services trained us to be suspicious. They always needed extra papers and stamps that, we were convinced, they made up as they pleased based on each case. He came to the counter and was summoned by the immigration officer to approach the counter. The officer checked his visa and took his finger prints. The whole process took less than 5 minutes and at that point he was almost disappointed that he did not get to practice his English while answering the immigration officer's questions.
Later when he was in the car traveling away from the New York City he started thinking about the whole incident. Why did the officer only call him and the other man to the counter without a line? There were at least 150 other passengers on the same flight with him. What made them so special? He did not know the answer, until later, much later, when we talked about it, it dawned on him that both him and the other man were pretty much the only two pale, white human beings in line. Others were dark-skinned and "different."
So, the lesson of the American racism was brought to my husband, a first time visitor to America, at the JFK airport, that was supposed to be the most diverse airport in America where every race, color and nationality blends to visit the city that never sleeps.
My husband's words echo strongly in my head every time I read an article or an opinion piece opposing immigration or resettling of the Syrian refugees. "We are lucky that we are white," he says, and he is right. We will adjust and adapt, we speak good English and have fairly unremarkable names. We could be second or third generation American, no one will question us.
In the light of the police shootings and the staggering statistics about the death toll of African Americans each year in the land of the free, I wonder, who are we kidding. We cannot make America great again, as Trump says. America will never be great until we stop acting as if this land is a white Christian land only. It belongs to the descendants of the black slaves whose ancestors worked on this land. It belongs to the Jews who came here seeking shelter after the atrocities they survived in Europe. It belongs to the Muslims and the Buddhists and the Native Americans.
I am saddened by the shooting of the police officers in Dallas. I am saddened that we always, always choose to use the bad seeds of any group (Muslims, police officers, African Americans) to cast judgment of the entire group itself.
So, America is still racist, we are Muslim and immigrants and my kid has blonde hair and blue eyes. World is too apocalyptic right now and I fear that we may be spiraling towards something that we will not be able to stop. The time is now to speak up and teach your children that humanity is not determined by their skin color or their religion or the place where they were born. Humanity is determined by their ability to look at another human being and offer help, compassion and understanding. This is what makes us human and distinguishes us from animals.