What Do You Think When You Look At Me?

I never watch any TED Talks, but a friend of mine shared this video by Dalia Mogahed the other day.  Basically because it asked a question and I had an answer, it made me want to watch it.

First, I just noticed her picture and the larger question of “What do you think when you look at me?”

OK, well… for me, it’s basics. Her skin colouring & heavy eyebrows tell me that she is of Middle Eastern descent. Her clothing, and the head scarf tell me that she is Muslim. (Though for the clothing bit, she could look Asian or Black African and I would still think Muslim, because not all Muslims are Middle Eastern looking, but that is really neither here nor there, since she does not look Asian or Black African.) And she’s obviously a woman. End of discussion.

My second immediate thought is how I bet this question is getting asked because people would assume that she’s evil or a terrorist.  And I wouldn’t really know that this is how a lot of people feel or judge, except that they can’t stop talking about it.  So, the fact that I would NOT think this about her, but that I’m betting this is why the question was asked in the first place is why it’s my second thought.  (P.S.  It’s totally the reason the question was asked, which is sad).

Thirdly,  I’m not one to generally take time pondering whether someone’s a mother, has kids or a husband, has parents, because none of those are facts; only ponderings.   I realize that people all have/had people, so I’m empathetic, but unless you ask that person, you have no idea if both of their parents are even still alive, or if they grew up without them.  Whether or not they are married or have kids, or whether or not they had siblings or if they are even still alive.  It’s fine to know about people, and I’m curious, though never so brazen enough to just go up to someone that I don’t know and ask.  However,  as these are presented as sub-questions here and she’s given a talk, I’m going to listen.  I wouldn’t mind knowing who she is, but I’m not a person who’s going to assume who might or might not be in her life.


Now, my first thoughts upon hearing her talk after about a minute or so, is “Why don’t people already realize this stuff!?” I’m not trying to be glib, but I really don’t understand. I know what I, personally, know, which is people all over the world are just people. Living their lives and being normal. I’ve always known this. I don’t even really know how I’ve always known this, but I’ve just always thought this way.  I also realize that there are crazy and extremist people everywhere & that while those people may claim to be part of the collective whole of a certain group, they aren’t.

Something she said, & I’m paraphrasing here is that “Isis is Islam to the same extent that the KKK are Christians.” And it’s true. Both Isis and the KKK claim to be of the larger group, but they aren’t and the larger group doesn’t include them at all.  To Christians, the KKK are not Christians.  To Muslims, Isis are not Muslims.

Now where it differs, obviously because I am not Middle Eastern or a Muslim, is when the 9/11 attacks happened.  I couldn’t take it personally, and why would I, as I am not being mentioned.  So, I did not hear “Muslim Terrorists” on the news and become confused like her, or worry for my safety.  Though its understandable, as well as sad, hearing her perspective and knowing what they must have gone through.   It was also worth knowing about her perspective and what she went through.  However, about the only way I could have had the same emotions as her would have been if they had said Sarah from Mississippi on the news at the same time.  People are just like that.

However, what I did think when hearing “Muslim Terrorists” and such during the news at that time, was NOT “Muslim people! They’re all bad & evil!” but, “This is a crazy faction. That’s terrible to have a crazy faction doing this and then you end up being slammed on the news for it.”

So, now I wonder, as I always do when any stories come up where a collective group of White people think differently from me… How is it that I can realize this, growing up in Mississippi my entire life, never having actually met a Muslim person personally? How come other people don’t think this way?  Know this?


If you know me, then you know that my maternal Aunt is Armenian.  If you are wondering, both her and my mother were adopted. Beyond her having a beautiful darker shade of skin, gorgeous half-moon eyes (that I always wish I’d had), teaching me how to write my name in Arabic and Armenian that one time and being surrounded by Persian carpets all of my life because of her, that’s about where it ends.

She speaks with a southern twang mixed with poshy tones. Grew up Presbyterrian and changed to Anglican, and probably isn’t any religion now. Lived in Canada most of the time that I knew her. Spoke more French than the Arabic or Armenian that she also learned in later life.  And she adored country music.

She is also kind of crazy. I love her, but she’s not someone who is pleasantly perfect or whom I would idolize. So, I know I can’t be ‘idolizing’ an entire conglomerate group of peoples simply because of my Aunt. I also knew nothing about Arabic people, nor Armenians, from her. Just the French language and Persian Carpets. So, though I’ve been given the answer of my Aunt for the reason that I never thought Muslim people were evil, not during 9/11, not during anything, nor even now, there’s no logical basis for that. My Aunt might only be an answer if she were actually Middle Eastern (because Armenia generally doesn’t make that list, as they are of the Caucasus Region, but depending on whom you’re speaking to, Armenia will get lumped in with the Middle East, I assume my aunt makes that list because of her eyes and skin colouring) and if she were actually a Muslim.

So, while I still don’t understand, and probably never will, why people don’t already know this stuff, I still wonder about it.

Mogahed’s video is not very long and is well worth the listen.  She’s funny and charming and it is imperative to at least simulate walking in someone else’s shoes from time to time; to broaden the mind and step outside of our every day.  It’s not always easy or fun, but it is always most definitely worth it!

P.S.  I got the feels moment:  At the end of her talk, her family does decide to go to service at the mosque, because this is America and one’s not supposed to be afraid here.  When they arrived, the mosque was filled with all sorts of non-Muslim people; for support, for solidarity.  That got me right in the heart, y’all.  So lovely.


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