No Mean Girls resonates strongly within me. Although I grew up in a very ‘waspy’ (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) Midwestern city, I was fortunate to be born color blind –  not seeing someone’s skin tone, but sensing the person, the spirit first. I’m not so observant when it comes to physical features but very astute in quickly assessing character. Perhaps it comes with age. We can’t do much about the color of our skin, but we can work to perfect our character. That, at least, is in our hands.

I always gravitated toward ‘the other’ out of a fascination to know and learn about a way of looking at things different than my own: chumming with the AFS students in high school (American Field Students from abroad) and even the token inner city African American kids from Milwaukee who were brought in to attend school with us.  My God, those kids were courageous!

I befriended them all as they happened to be in the school musical our senior year. At the cast party held at my home, my father confided in my mom that although he wouldn’t prevent me from inviting those kids, he would not remain in the house while they were there. Mom talked the good talk but certainly did not walk it as I came later to realize. I was aghast – aghast(!) to learn that my own home town was still considered a ‘sundown town’* as late as the 1970’s.

So no surprise when I met an Egyptian later in my life in New York City and bombarded him with questions about his life in such a fascinating place and region – and his religion, about which I knew next to nothing.

A remarkable read (and movie) is the Autobiography of Malcolm X. How this very angry militant, after embarking on the Pilgrimage to Mecca, returned a changed man. What precipitated the change from Nation of Islam that preached the white man was a devil and the enemy, to mainstream Islam was that Malcom X experienced firsthand the foundation of the religion: that it is built on the premise that no man/woman is better than another except in righteousness. Skin color, nationality, class, clan, none of it matters. This was one of the most compelling reasons people became Muslim initially when Muhammad first shared the revelations of the Qur’an in Mecca over 1400 years ago. There was no distinction between the rich and the poor, the owner and the slave.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. Holy Qur’an 49:13

Many Muslims are on board with the Black Lives Matter movement. You may have seem many young scholars who marched and spoke eloquently at various gatherings and memorials. It is part and parcel of the faith. Do we have issues with this in Muslim nations? We do. Again, as with any faith, we must not always judge the practitioners but rather look to the religion and its scriptures. God and religion are not to blame. Humans have no excuse to not know what is right, particularly in the age of global communication: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, all are available at our fingertips and widely known.

To hate and despise ‘the other’ seems to be programmed into us from our parents, our kin and the society around us. It makes me shudder when a child gives me that ‘look’. I know he is getting some sort of skewed information about a woman in hijab from somewhere. And a big shame on our brothers and sisters in Abrahamic traditions that vilify one another from the pulpit and discourage their congregations from gaining knowledge about each other.

Much as I agree with these movements to support all groups that are marginalized, I believe the more we speak about our differences – even for the best of reasons to draw attention and support of various causes – the more we emphasize we are different, we are different, the longer the stereotypes and racism remain with us. I love the change of verbiage from ‘melting pot’ to ‘salad bowl’ in describing America. We recognize and savor those tasty distinctions that make each one unique, yet we are all part of the same savory bowl, that would lose its distinctiveness if one ingredient, one component was missing.

Staying apart and separate, fighting and hating, is a sneaky technique that also serves a higher purpose: to keep a safe distance between the haves and the have nots, the Mean Girls and the rest of us.

Enough said.

  • Sundown towns were a form of segregation, in which a town, city, or neighborhood in the United States was purposely all-white, excluding people of other races. These restrictions were enforced by some combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation, and violence. Wikipedia
  • According to a WI researcher, “there was never an official law or ordinance on the books in Appleton. This is according to a check of city records going back to the 1940s. However, it was “an understanding” that black people were not welcome in the community after dark. To my knowledge, this was not true in neighboring communities, but I have been focusing on Appleton.