My beard makes me a terrorist? What does that make Santa Claus? Christian images depict God with a beard, so is he a terrorist too? What about Jesus? Oh wait…
“Your father and I have been talking,” says my mother, her words heavy with hesitation. “He doesn’t want to say this to you, he knows you won’t listen. But you should know, and you should consider it this time.”
I have a good idea of where the conversation is going just by the tone of it all. And I know before she tells me that I will not agree, cannot. Perhaps I would have obliged if I was younger, perhaps a few years ago, yes. I have, in fact. But this is the year 2015. I live in a country in which I was not born but have over time grown to call home. I am a citizen.
“You should shave off your beard. There’s so much happening in the world, and maybe just for the time being, consider clean shaving. You’ll look nice.”
My mother does not use words like Muslim or terrorism or ISIS. She has no need to, because they are known to us all without utterance. These are thorns that have pricked us in our sides, occupied unnecessary space in our lives. They are unwelcome guests that decided to barge into our home and have never quite left. And there is not yet any indication of them perhaps ever doing so.
“I will not,” I respond. “And why should I?” Before my mother tries to argue, I continue, “Why, Ma? Why should I shave my beard off? If a white man can keep his beard even longer than mine, and people can accept it as being fashionable, then why am I seen as any different? No one once stops to question his faith.”
“Yes,” she agrees. “No one ever doubts a white man.”
“I refuse to look a certain way just to fit this society’s liking,” I go on. I know my parents care only for my wellbeing. That, for them, now at their age, it is no longer about standing against discrimination. In fact, I understand. I understand that they are exhausted of standing against it. I understand that they have, if not learned, at least decided, to accept it, or else ignore it. This, too, is painful to know.
I understand that, for my parents, there is no shame in this surrender if it guarantees the safety of our family.
I know stories of my father being harassed in public because of his name many years ago. He, like millions of others, carry the prophet’s name as a title. My father was confronted by a drunk man one day who saw his nametag bear the name of the prophet, who recognized it and then proceeded to subdue my father with words and insults that will forever be best left unrepeated.
I was young then, I did not see him come home upset, near tears. I only heard of this incident from my mother, did not see my father break down because of it. For when you are only seven or eight years old, your father does not ever break in front of you.
It was after that incident that saw him go by only his last name in order to protect himself, his dignity, and his faith from being attacked. My father walked away from that episode having his entire life changed. And the other man walked away unscathed.
But that was then, this is now -my parents will tell me if I should ever point this out. However, I refuse to accept it. I know they cannot either, that they have instead learned to live with it. I hope to learn a great many things in my life, but I hope I never learn how to live with discrimination.
“I refuse to be treated like a second class citizen,” I tell my mother. “I have to live here for the rest of my life.”
It is unfortunate that my parents have been normalized to discrimination. But I still have some fight in me. I have reason to stand my ground. I have a life ahead of me. And, hopefully, the potential for a pretty epic beard.