Guest Commentary

A Muslim with a sense of humor discovers ignorance at a supermarket

A funny thing happened to me on my way to Tucson Meet Yourself: I chose to wear a specific T-shirt for the purpose of education and to exhibit the fact that Muslims do have a sense of humor.

But, as my mother used to tell me, it takes all kinds of people to make the world. And not all kinds see the value in education, nor do they appreciate a sarcastic Muslim.

I had stopped at the Fry's at 22nd Street and Harrison Road for flowers and candy for the booth at which I was volunteering. A woman with a young child smirked at me and said, "Seriously?"

I shot her a smile and a 'Yup.'

A few minutes later, I stood behind her in the checkout line. She glared my way. I didn't say a word. I only smiled.

Then she unleashed a barrage of verbal abuse, remarking on my choice of what I was wearing as an attention-getter. (Well, that was the point ... education.) I asked her if she did not believe in the freedom of speech. She answered that she did. (In her mind, freedom of speech includes hate speech.)

It was around that time that I told her she did not believe in good manners or setting a good example for her grandchild.

At first, I jokingly told the cashier to call security. But as this uneducated, ill-mannered and frustrated customer continued to spew her hate speech, I asked the cashier: "Really, call security now. No joke."

The woman became flustered, dropping her ID as well as all evidence of intelligence and respect. Then she delivered her final spark of ignorance: "Well, then, I'd better hurry up and leave before the bomb goes off."

I've experienced some challenges in my life as an American Muslim. Lots of them.

Like the time in the early '90s when back-to-school shopping was on my agenda. Before we left the house, I gave my young children a heads-up, because earlier that week, a tragic event had happened that could have proven challenging for us in public. I reminded my kids to watch their p's and q's and not to say a thing to anyone who might direct negative remarks our way. As we made our way through the crowded aisles of a Walmart on the southwest side, we heard the loud, boisterous voice of a woman yelling at us.

"Hey, you! Hey, you funny-looking people! Look at me! I'm talking to you! Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

My sons turned to me with questioning eyes. My daughter, the youngest at 6, could not resist the urge to peek. As she turned to see who was hollering at us, one of my boys said, "Mom, look! It's Aunt Kathy!"

There was my sister Kathy, grinning at us while my preteen niece Yvette rolled her eyes. If you think my Baptist sister Kathy is funny, you should hear my Jewish brother Jim's comedy routine in Los Angeles.

As I thought of my family, I remembered as a little girl my mother soothing me with her sage Irish wisdom, passed down from generation to generation among the Conleys.

While taking a drag off of her Winston, then sipping from her cup of MJB coffee, she'd advise me of the different kinds of people in the world. She limited it to two kinds: those who know, and those who don't.

"Don't know what, Mama?" I'd ask.

"Those who don't know their shit stinks. Those are the ones to avoid."

But back to the woman at Fry's. Her lack of education did not surprise me. Her lack of respect did not, either. Not in this political and religious climate of intolerance.

What surprised me, though, were my reactions. Was I, an Irish-American convert of 33 years, finally growing up? Was I abandoning my heritage? Had I lost my mother's Irish touch of verbal blows?

It's possible. But then again, maybe not. I didn't cuss her out ... there.

Oh, and my T-shirt? It said, "Go ahead, profile me."

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