I bought this beautiful shirt from Threadless the other day (click the image for a bigger version). I love the message behind it, that all people can get along and have fun if they put aside their differences. It makes me happy and squishy inside and I knew I had to have it.
So I wore it to work and proudly showed it off. One co-worker frowned and pointed:
Co-worker: "Who's that?"
Me: "Uh ... that's a Muslim Imam*."
Co-worker: "Oh ... I thought maybe it was Saddam Hussein or someone because he was wearing a turban."
WHAT. I was actually so stunned I had no idea what to say, I think I ended up laughing nervously and walking away. It deeply saddens me that "turban = terrorist" to so many people now. Growing up in London, I saw people wearing turbans every day and it never registered as unusual. But recounting this story to Americans here, they've nodded sadly and admitted that to many, turbans now mean a person cannot be trusted.
I wish I could pass it off as one ignorant person, but the truth is that it is a consistent issue with humanity. We love to segregate people and fit them into nice little niches. After all, it's much easier to simply dismiss someone outright for the color of their skin or for their religious beliefs than to get to know them and judge them fairly.
An ex-co-worker and I decided to have coffee and catch a movie after work one day. He admitted that I confused and frustrated him, because he couldn't fit me into a niche. I have long, black hair and facial piercings, which made him think I was a goth. But I am Buddhist, I generally listen to Japanese pop music and I knit on my breaks at work, I love to cook and take care of my pets and I am bi in a same-sex relationship. He had no idea how to segregate me, and when I suggested that he just accept me for who I am, he looked totally lost.
Some people need to learn to form impressions with their heart first, and eyes second.
* After a bit of research on Wikipedia, I have discovered I may have been wrong to call him an Imam. In fact, I'm not sure exactly what would be the correct term, or whether it can even be determined from the picture. A Mullah? Muezzin? Any Muslims reading this that could clarify for me?