A couple of days ago I had a small medical procedure that involved sutures near my ear and included a head wrap bandage that left me looking a bit like Jacob Marley’s Ghost in the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol.
Moderately vain woman that I am, I wrapped one of my long scarves around my head to hide the bandage and set off from the doctor’s office en route to my stepmom’s house which was a significant distance away.
It should come as no surprise that the one time I wanted to scoot home unnoticed, I missed a turn and had to stop for directions twice. I ended up driving through a very rural part of Georgia where I began to consider that a headscarf worn to conceal a bandage might make people see me not as stylish, but perhaps something to be feared.
I’ve wrapped many a scarf around my head to protect my hair from the wind or sun and added sunglasses at times in a playful attempt to emulate a variety of film stars such as Sharon Stone or Elizabeth Taylor, but never have I worried that I might encounter hostility or suspicion because of what I normally consider a fashion statement or something to protect me from the weather.
I’m generally not easily intimidated, I served in the military in the late 70s and early 80s and because we live in a world where women are more likely than men to be victims of violence or harassment, I learned early how to suss out situations where I might not be physically safe and how to avoid them.
I viewed it as living a state of awareness rather than one of living in fear.
I thought I was pretty good at it until the other day when I sashayed out the door with my scarf-wrapped head on my way to the car. It was not until I stopped the first time for directions and drew a couple of odd looks and no help at all from the two men at the gas station that I began to consider my head scarf might be an issue. It’s possible they didn’t know where the major highway in question was in relation to the gas station, but I left feeling like something was off in the exchange.
Given the open hostility and racism modeled and encouraged by Donald Trump at his rallies and in his Twitter messages over the last eighteen months, for the first time I became aware that there might be more ways to feel unsafe than I am accustomed to.
The next time I stopped was at McDonald’s where I was able to get coffee and directions from a nice woman behind the counter. I will admit that the lingering look of an older white male ( mid 50s like myself ) made me wonder if he was trying to decide if I was one of those immigrant people Donald Trump thinks need to go back to where they came from or a dangerous Muslim with malicious mischief on her mind.
Being a white female raised in the Christian faith in America, racism has never been part of my personal experience in that it has never been directed at me.
Safely in my car having found the right road back, I thought about the brief taste of the anxiety I’d felt and wondered about the people who deal with fear and dread every day due to clothing that reveals their religious faith, or those whose skin color marks them as other to some of the more radical and angry groups of largely white audiences mobilized and encouraged by the hate speech at Trump rallies and the folks who are his supporters. I’m not saying all Trump’s supporters are the same, but how could anyone pledge their allegiance to a man who at best insults everyone and tries to eviscerate those who challenge him.
The big question here is not whether I imagined the odd look or the possibility that someone might say or do something ugly to me because they thought I was a Muslim, but how did America go through such a radical transition in such a short period?
We are a nation of immigrants with only a small percentage being native to this land and if I was afraid to be mistaken for a Muslim woman, how do those who need to dress in the ways of their faith feel about living in a country where the words ” Freedom of Religion ” no longer truly mean Freedom.
I’ve been more afraid for America than I can remember having listened to the reactions and praise for Trump’s ideals over the last few months.
More than fear, I have felt a level of grief I had not expected watching people lose themselves to their darker sides and behave openly in ways that are shameful and embarrassing for those Americans who appreciate diversity and who honor the struggle in all of us to be better together than a nation divided by bigotry and hatred.
I will be holding my breath tomorrow as I watch the election returns and want to say to every person who has truly felt the fear that I probably only imagined, my vote will have been cast for the candidate I believe can lead us back to a stronger better nation where there is a place at the table for everyone no matter what they wear on their head or where they may have originally called home.
One indivisable nation because that is who we are when we are at our best!