Thursday, September 27, 2012

Somalians, Francos, Acceptance and a Few Retail Nightmares

If you've been following my blog for any length of time you may remember my post about Muslims from last year: Everything I Need to Know About Islam I Learned on 9/11/01

This morning I read an article about the mayor of the city I just moved away from. Lewiston Mayor Tells Somalis to Leave Your Culture at the Door

Now that you've read both of those, I have two stories for you.

Back when I was working at Walmart I was on register and I had just put my sign up to say I was going to close the register because it was past my lunch hour. Anyone who knows me (and knows my hypoglycemia) knows that when it is past my lunch hour you do NOT want to mess with me. I turn into a demon and I lose control when my blood sugar is low, just ask the kid who stole a fry off my tray at lunch junior year of high school.

Anyway, two Somali women walked up to my register. One of them spoke no English, the other one spoke broken English. I rang up their $200 purchase and when they swiped their debit card it didn't work. Insufficient funds. The woman who didn't speak English required about three minutes of explanation before she understood what the problem was. The two women traded off walking to the ATM twice. They removed items they didn't need from their shopping cart hoping to bring the total down to what they could afford. Then, after ringing back through about half the items and my blood sugar going lower and lower while my face got warmer and redder they finally were able to complete the transaction. As they walked away from the register the woman who spoke English reached in her back pocket and pulled out a $100 bill. She then asked me to RE-RING all the items they had taken out of their cart.

By the time I got to my lunch break I was about two seconds away from quitting my job.

Second story: When I worked at the pet store a year or so later in Lewiston, an older, white woman came in with a harness she wanted to return. She had purchased it over a year before but it had a lifetime guarantee. We didn't have the exact size she needed and asked her if she could return in two weeks to get the harness she needed. She complained for a good ten minutes, demanded a bigger size because her dog had outgrown the other one anyway, and I repeated the policy (which came from the company who made the harness, not from us) a good six or seven times. She left. I ordered the harness she needed.

She didn't return for three months. At that time we had already sold the one we had ordered for her since she hadn't returned my phone calls or come into the store in over three months. She threw another fit, this time with personal insults toward my age, my intelligence, my appearance. Anything she could to insult me.

Again, I was close to quitting.

My point is this: In the ten years I worked and lived in the Lewiston area I encountered MANY frustrating people. I also met some incredibly wonderful people, but today is a rare occasion where I wish to focus on faults. I dealt with retail nightmares, education nightmares, driving nightmares. People did stupid things, said stupid things And it didn't have anything to do with what color they were.

I met a white woman who told me she was attempting to get pregnant for the fourth time because if she didn't the state was going to "make" her get a job by taking away her assistance. I met a teenage girl who was a junior in high school, taking college classes, helping to raise her younger siblings and working part time in order to help out her family. She was a Somali refugee.

To lump all the Somalis together and say, "these people are what is wrong with our city" is a foolish approach akin to saying the Jews are what is wrong with Germany and the Mudbloods are what is wrong with the Wizarding World. (Like how I put Harry Potter into everything?) It only demonstrates an inability to learn from the mistakes of history and a lack of critical thinking skills. It dooms us to repeat our past, continue our cycles of xenophobia and prejudice, and never find peace as a planet.

The actions of a Somali-American are overblown. If a Somali man cuts us off in traffic for some reason we remember that more than if a white man does. We grant allowances to those that are "like us" while giving harsher punishment to those that are "different." Our inability to see past these differences is what is preventing our society from moving forward. They are what is standing between us and a peaceful existence with the beautiful cultures merging together in our ever-changing world. Forced assimilation is not the answer, acceptance is.

We talk often about seeing all of the good in others, but when we are seeing the good in our race while denying the good in an immigrant race then the purpose is entirely negated. We need to acknowledge and accept the mistakes we are all capable of making as well. A Franco-American man from Lewiston is just as capable of letting a door slam in my face as a Somali man is. If you want to teach someone a different cultural value from their own teach it first in how you treat them. Hold the door open for them and they will be far more likely to return the favor than if you simply write them off, pledge to send them home or deny their right to celebrate the culture they are from.

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