Theresa McCune: Life As a White Muslim
It is a strange thing to stand between two worlds, with a foot in each, wanting to be in both, and yet not being able to split yourself completely between them. I find myself again and again at odds with my surroundings, and yet I am at home. Having grown up in the military, and having lived in so many different states around the country, one would think it an advantage when interacting with people from other places. I suppose it can be, but it is a double edged sword.
I usually have no problem making friends, and am quite comfortable with public interactions with strangers. However, I often experience a sort of distance with people when we first meet. They always seem to think that I am from somewhere else. It’s always been that way, even before I was a Muslim, but now that I cover my hair, it has become quite strange at times.
Before, people used to just ask me where I was from, assuming that I was American, and just wanting to know which state. They didn’t recognize my accent. That was probably a result of my having picked up a little from each state in which I’ve lived. Since the ear tends to pick up what is unfamiliar to it, everywhere I go, I sound like I’m from somewhere else. If I go north, people know I’m from the south. When I’m in the south, they call me a Yankee.
My people hale from the North, but I’ve lived all over the South, and as far East and West as one can get within the United States. You would think that would make me an “all American”, and personally, I feel that anyone born in a military hospital is certainly within their right to call any state in the union “Home”.
But since I’ve started wearing a scarf, many people seem to hear something else in my accent. They seem to completely miss the “y’all”, and the “boy I tell you what…..”, in a heavy generic American Accent with just a touch of drawl. I’ve gotten used to people asking me where I’m from everywhere I go, all the time, but now they don’t seem able to accept the answer.
They’ll say something like “Oh, you have an accent. Where are you from?” I’ll answer “Well, I grew up an Army brat and lived all over the US, but I’ve lived in Texas most of my adult life.” At this point, they usually come back with something like “No, I mean, where are you from, originally?” I’ll say “I’m American”. They’ll say, “No, but where are your parents from?” So I go on to explain my parent’s ancestries of French, Irish, Scottish, Polish, Dutch, and Swedish, blah, blah, blah. At this point they tend to blink a few times, and get a blank, “deer-in-the-headlights” look on their face.
Their eyes dart around a bit, searching for something in the air that may demonstrate the narrative. I’ve stumped them. They cannot comprehend it. The awkward silence and blank stare indicate to me that further explanation is required.
They may stutter a bit before asking the next question, partly due to their desire to remain politically correct, and their inability to connect all that I’ve said into a coherent thought. “So you’re, uh”, “I mean you’re”, um,…like, uh…..”, and I, unable to bear their discomfort any longer, blurt it out, “I’m white”.
Slowly the comprehension, and color, returns to their face, softening it, making it less strained, like they’ve just returned to the current time and place from out of one of Dr. Who’s inter-dimensional call boxes. “Ohhh”, they say, and after a brief recovery, we resume our conversation and activities as usual.
It’s quite odd, in a land of so many different cultures, religions, ethnicities, languages, and faces to match them all, that my white face under a scarf should cause such confusion. For some reason, my explanation of being “white” solidifies my American-ness in their minds. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. I don’t know how to fix it. I guess I’ll just go on stumping a while longer. Maybe someday scientists will come up with a cure.
Growing up military, I befriended not only people from all over America, but all over the world. I am thankful for that, because I’d really rather be on this side of the “deer-in-the-headlights” look, anyway.
It’s not such a fantastic thing when you think about it, to be Muslim and American. I was American before I was Muslim, and I will continue to be both, regardless of how unfathomable it seems to some. No matter how much I have to explain the obvious, a few will never really get it. They will say things like “Here in America….”, and “If you agree with our ways, we’ll accept you” and “Just so long as you appreciate the freedoms we have here”. How else would it be? Where else would I be?
I have no other country of reference, and I don’t need your acceptance because I am already one of you. I always have been, and always will be. I also very much appreciate the freedoms we have here. I’ve served to protect those freedoms. I come from a long line of appreciative freedom protectors. Do you?
With all the ignorance I’ve witnessed in the media of late, I never would have imagined, even in my worst nightmares, that I would ever have to explain myself to my own people, and defend my right to live in the land of my birth, and the birth of my ancestors, but after all, why not?
Why should I be immune to the hate, and ignorance? African Americans have endured it, so have Latinos, Native Americans, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Irish, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, and a whole host of others. Heck, all these different groups of people are what make up the population of this country.
Anyone who isn’t native came from somewhere else. So if you think I am here to “take over”, I guess you’re right. However, you’re also too late, because my people took over hundreds of years ago, when they came from Europe and Britain and wrenched this land out of the hands of the native peoples, then we did it again in the 1800’s, when many of us immigrated south, in droves, and took over land from Mexico, a sovereign nation, and renamed it Texas.
We can all argue and fight each other over who belongs here, and who doesn’t, or we can all just learn to get along. After all, this is the United States of America, not the Bickering, Badgering, Divided States of America.
I love this land, and all its people.
I love Tennessee in autumn, Pennsylvania in the summer, Massachusetts in winter, and Texas in the springtime.
When you speak of us, do not say “Muslims and Americans”, as if we are separate, different, apart from each other. We are one in the same.
If you push me out of the American equation, you are pushing out one of your own, and so, divided we fall.