imgresSomeone asked me if I had ever encountered racism.  I thought about it a second and a particular event came rushing back to me.  It was a one time occurrence but it made me think about how terrible it must be to endure that time and time again just because of who you are, where you came from, what you look like from a random person who makes a judgement due to their own prejudices.

For me it was in college.  My then boyfriend had two really good friends who were from a small town on Cape Cod.  We were living in Boston and drove there for a warm spring weekend.  We were going to stay at one of the guys girlfriends house.  We both knew her and had spent time with her over the year.

We got to the house and met the parents.  I felt uncomfortable the second I stepped foot in the house.  The parents sized me up and I could see in their eyes that I did not look like their friends.  I am Jewish.

They began to interrogate me.  Where was I from?  How was it possible we all met?  I knew exactly where they were going.  I wanted to ask them what did they really want to know.  I felt like saying would you like to see my horns?  I have never felt so uncomfortable somewhere.  All I wanted to do was get out of there.  I could barely breath.

We were supposed to stay for dinner and spend the night.  I refused.  I told my boyfriend that I would not stay the night there.  I felt unsafe.  I am sure it would have been fine but I didn’t feel at ease until we were in the car and out of their neighborhood.

It is a moment that I had not thought about for years.  Yet when someone asked me if I had ever encountered racism it was unbelievable how quickly that came rushing back to my brain.  Think about how awful it must be to have to endure that often.  You probably become numb to it and put up a wall that has a hard time every coming down.

What is happening now with the Syrian refugees is what spurred on the conversation.  Most of these people are people who just want to have a roof over their head, food on their place, access to medicine and a place that they can raise their families.  Our friends became Canadian citizens after living in Canada for decades.  It was time.  The last part of the process was that you had to come in for an entire morning and discuss with groups of people who were also getting their citizenship what the most important thing about becoming a Canadian citizen is.  My friend figured economic security, opportunity to do something of value for the country.  The answer among all the people in the roof was safety.  After hearing from many of them how they had got to Canada he said he looked around the room of people from all over the globe and almost cried.  Think about that, the most powerful thing to all these people was that they were now safe.

I think about how lucky we are all to sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families knowing that we have a roof over our head and food at the table. We should really be thinking about all the refugees around the globe who are looking to have the same experience as us, to be with friends and family around a table filled with food and to be thankful for the ability to lead the lives that they want to live.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan Rubinsky

    A lovely message for Thanksgiving week. Thank you.Here’s a piece about refugees that you may like – https://medium.com/@humanso

  2. William Mougayar

    Could it be that your experience was more about them being ignorant than racists? Maybe there are related, but one is intentional (racism), and the other is not, because it’s rooted in being clueless and showing it.If someone is interested in where you’re from or what you are, and it comes with a sense of genuine curiosity and respect, that’s ok, but if it comes with a sense of ignorance and narrow mindedness, that’s bad.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It was definitely ignorance but there was an underlying hatred that was so obvious. That is what I found unswttling

    2. awaldstein

      Bigotry is not restricted to a conscious act.Whether you do something out of conscious and deliberate hate or not is really not the issue.Both are racism.Both are hate crimes.

      1. Gotham Gal


      2. William Mougayar


        1. awaldstein

          Generational racism is the scariest honestly and the hardest to imagine a resolution whether it be here or in the middle east.

    3. LE

      Agree 100% with the (potentially) “more about them being ignorant than racists”. (Of course both of us only know what Joanne has written so…).What’s great with what you have said is that you are willing to consider other possibilities and give the parents a break and not freak out.

  3. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Amen, lady.Those of us who are lucky enough to feel safe in our every day lives (and as a woman, I frequently experience the lack of that sense of safety) have the honor of doing what we can to help create the same feeling for those who are deprived of it daily. Those people are all around us.

  4. Emily Steed

    Thank you for posting this. It puts the focus for Thanksgiving right where it should be. Gratitude, empathy and compassion.I felt overwhelmed the day I became a US citizen – a few years ago – because I was meeting so many people from all around the world and I could not help but think about all of the safety-related reasons people were leaving families and loved-ones behind.And regarding that college experience: I am very impressed that you trusted your gut way back in college – good for you! I hope my kids have the confidence to leave situations where they feel unwelcome. Well done.

  5. lisa hickey

    Thanks for posting this Joanne. It is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I work closely with a lot of people who are trying to solve racism at its core. The more we can get people to talk about it with stories that others can relate to, the better.This is obviously coming to a head with the conversations both about the refugees as well as US Presidential candidates who are openly bigoted and racist. You can see, with Trump, for example, that is not just the things he says, but the things he is promising to do once in office that will deepen the racist systems that are already a part of our culture. To me, racism is not just the daily aggressions which people of color experience, but the systematic denial of the same access to resources that are given to others.But I had an interesting “aha” with the current conversation about the Syrian refugees—and it goes with the second half of your story about your Canadian friends.A few years ago, I was injured in a terrorist attack, and still have outward signs of those injuries. I was at the Boston Marathon with my four children (one who was running the marathon). My youngest daughter and I were standing at the finish line and heard the first bomb go off to the left of us. My daughter said, “Mom, I’m scared”, and so we ran…directly towards the second bomb as it was exploding. My daughter told me afterwards that she was so sure she was going to die that day that the only way she got through it was to tell herself, “Well, at least I had a good life.”So would I let Syrian refugees into this country? In a heartbeat. Why? Because I am blessed to live in a land where I feel safe and am mostly free of fear—*despite having been injured in terrorist attack.* I cannot tell you the enormity of that insight. I am more afraid of a lack of empathy in our country than I am of terrorists.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You are lucky to be here to tell the story. Did your children have any lasting repercussions from that experience?It is powerful for you to stay…let them in.We were at an event last night that Senator Schumer spoke at. You know how many refugees that went through the process of getting status were let in this country that had ties to terrorists – ZERO.

      1. lisa hickey

        My daughter and I went to the dinner that the city of Boston held for the survivors. And some people showed up in wheelchairs, some crutches, some were carried in. A dozen people were at the dinner who had lost limbs. And every one I talked to considered themselves lucky.Did my children suffer any repercussions? That is a fascinating question. As far as I can see—only good ones. My daughter who was running the marathon used the story of that day on her application to Med School, and just got accepted. The daughter above had headaches and tinnitus for months, and then left for college that following fall—and a few months later there was a school shooting on her college campus. She had to sit locked in her classroom while reports were texted in about three active shooters on campus. She walked out of her classroom and immediately helped others who were traumatized—she knew exactly what to do and what they needed. She is now an Economics major, wants to go to law school and help solve problems of social justice. She is about to go study abroad in South Africa.The repercussions are that we have less fear now than we did before and we all want to solve these problems in ways that others aren’t thinking about.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Making lemonade. Inspiring daughters.

        2. sigmaalgebra

          I have a daughter in law your daughter on the way to law school might want to talk to. The daughter in law got college PBK, Harvard Law, and Craveth-Swain, did some pro bono work, gave up law, and got an MD and is now a practicing physician. Since you know GG, maybe have her give you my phone number.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your story and your daughters’.Have Boston bombing survivors come together to make any kind of joint statement about Syrian refugees and/or racism in this country? I just want to make sure I follow and amplify any work that you and/or they may be doing in that regard. Thanks 🙂

      1. lisa hickey

        Thanks Kirsten. I have not seen anything, although I will check in with people at the trauma center. Interestingly, when the jury in the terrorist’s trial was voting on whether to give him the death penalty or not, there were a lot of the survivors (me included) who were triggered by the media attention to that one decision. And the survivor’s community was divided—in some cases 2 family members had been injured but were on opposite sides of the death penalty issue and it was causing rifts in the families. I’m not saying there would be that same polarization on this issue, but it is interesting. I’ll see what I can find.

    3. sigmaalgebra

      WOW! I can admire your position but I will never understand it. Just out of just good and careful judgment, I hope no Mideast Muslim ever gets within 100 miles of the Americas or Europe, which is where their targets are — really I’d want them all just kept wherever in the Mideast.I don’t want any boom-booms in the Americas or Europe, and ISIS has already stated that they want to nuke the US. I don’t think they are joking, and I don’t want any of their nukes going off.I wouldn’t recommend your being afraid and am glad you are not. But I would recommend your being informed and prudent and then mounting an effective defense.

  6. jason wright

    nothing good comes out of a monoculture. we should celebrate diversity in all its forms. no one type is the default setting. people should realise that when they question the validity of another type they are in fact weakening the framework of the environment that sustains their own type.the nation state, the nation state fiat currency, organised religion, et.c. et.c., they’re all abstract forms of racism. hopefully the internet and peer-to-peer assembly will wipe it all away and allow the ‘atomic unit’ of humanity, the individual, to bloom.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the internet has certainly made people in other societies wake up to that differences around the globe

      1. jason wright

        Cape Cod’s Puritans. Extremists. Deport them back to England.

  7. pointsnfigures

    As a WASP, you’d never think I would experience racism, but I played hoop! Be the only white kid on the playground for a while. It usually took one dunk to show “he doesn’t have that disease” or hit a jumper or block a shot. You earned acceptance.Society uses and teaches a lot of heuristics to categorize people. This drives assumptions. It’s human-and organizes things efficiently. What’s interesting to me is if I spend time with people and talk to them, they are more like me than different no matter the skin color, religion etc.Our society has become extremely polarized in recent years. I know people that will not invite me over because of my beliefs. I have gone to parties and been introduced as “My Republican friend”. I think it’s important to note that people might not agree for a lot of different reasons-but it’s important to understand and be empathetic to figure out their thought path to what they believe. Tolerance can be awfully hard.Diversity of ideas can be as important as pure diversity of skin color or gender. It is important to highlight overt racism where ever we see it-but it’s also important to realize that every time there is a disagreement, racism often isn’t a reason-but people will use it to inflame emotion.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I totally agree.

  8. Christie Ewen

    Racism is ugly: Just last week … Someone who never rubbed me the right way said to a group of parents, “My daughter didn’t get along with anyone at this middle school … you know … because it’s so diverse.” Now whenever I hear the word “diverse”, it has a negative meaning.

  9. TanyaMonteiro

    You truly are amazing Joanne! This is the most inspiring quality I see in you over and over again! Thank you

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks Tanya..