Shadia: A melting down of prejudices

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

February 08, 2012|By Mona Shadia

When you move from one country to another, culture shock is inevitable, especially when you go from one different system and culture to another.

But there were only two things about America's culture that shocked me.

I had been in high school for just a few days when, on my way to a classroom, I spotted a girl making out with a boy.

She could not have been much older than me, 15 at the time.

I found myself embarrassed for them and immediately looked away.

How could she do that at such a young age? And isn't she embarrassed for doing that in front of everyone? Was anyone seeing what I'm seeing?


I looked around. No one seemed to care.

I got over the horror I felt shortly thereafter seeing a few more.

I encountered culture shock a second time in high school when I realized Americans use race and color to describe each other.

The black guy. The white guy. The Mexican. The Asian. And, of course, the A-rab (me).

The skinny girl. The big girl (me again).

In high school other kids didn't say much about who a person was beyond these surface characteristics.

I especially didn't like it when someone told me I wasn't white.

What do you mean? I am white. My skin is white.

But then I understood what white meant. (Arabs come in all colors, but are not considered Caucasian, though they were at one time).

I too am guilty of sometimes referring to people by their race. But I feel awkward about it.

It's not that it is said in a demeaning way or that America's multiculturalism isn't great. But it gives me the feeling that people's race, religion or whatever it is that makes them different is how some define them — at least at first.

And then again, I don't know how people feel when they're referred to by their race or color in casual, but not pejorative, statements.

Growing up, I don't remember anyone describing people by their color or race. In the Middle East, people are usually referred to by their family's name or their profession, or even by how they lead their lives, their actions and deeds.

I think it has a lot to do with how Islam deals with race.

The prophet Muhammad arrived in one of the most tribal societies that ever existed and transformed it in many ways, including melting down prejudices.

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