When is a White Person Not a White Person? When She’s an Arab.

maxresdefaultA couple days ago I heard a story on NPR. Apparently, according to the next census, I’ll no longer be a white person. I’ll be MENA (Middle Eastern North African).

I mentioned this to my daughter. She said, “I thought you never were white.”

I explained that legally, I was. 22 years before I was born, Arabs were legally recognized as “white” by the United States of American.

“Yeah, but no one thinks of Arabs as white,” she said. (She’s Latina).

When you look at me, you would probably say, “Hey, that lady is white.” That’s because my mom’s parents were German. I got her coloring.

In the US, to be considered a Native American, instead of a generic white American, you have to be 1/16th Native. That’s one great-grandparent.

Historically, to be black you only needed “one drop” of African blood.

I’m half Arabic. A full 50%. My dad was fully Middle Eastern. An immigrant from Lebanon. Speaking Arabic.  Had an Arabic name: Salim. Grew up in Beirut. Was a tank gunner in the Christian Militia. Had Palestinian friends. Summered in Syria.

I inherited my dad’s nose. He said I looked like his mother, the grandmother I never met because she disowned him when he married my Germanic mom.

I said to a friend, “I don’t even know why this is bothering me. Why would I even want to be white? Especially right now, with all the ugly white supremacy stuff going on.”

My friend, a Jewish woman whose ancestors escaped some Nazi-benighted Eastern European country said, “Because white is safe.”

According to the NPR story, it became necessary to designate Middle Eastern North African peoples as MENA because there were just too many “Some Other Race” people in the last census.

But I can’t help wondering why, when the last census was taken in 2010, President Obama’s administration didn’t find it necessary to take care of that “problem” by designating Arabs as MENA then. Maybe he didn’t think an undesignated “Some Other Race” was such a big deal, being mixed race as he was.

I did some reading. The MENA idea has been kicking around for a while, but this is the first administration to seriously consider it. Congress still has to vote on it in 2018 to make it definite. I wonder which way it will go, and what it will mean.

MENA sounds so benign. I can imagine naming a daughter that, maybe with a different spelling—I assume it’s pronounced “Mee-nah”. It even sounds sort of Arabic.

On a related note: I found it a little troubling to hear about my possible MENA designation on the same weekend I heard about the new VOICE initiative.

VOICE (Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement) is the brainchild of Steve Bannon, voiced by DJT. It’s the latest in his white supremacy government propaganda push, inspired by Hitler’s Jewish Crimes List. Interestingly, the Third Reich started reporting Jewish crime separately from non-Jewish crime after putting in place the Nuremburg Race Laws.



DJT Day 8: You Racist, Muslim-Banning Lunatic


Today’s letter:

Dear Mr. President,

Sorry I missed a couple days there writing to you, but I need a break from your lunacy, so I could have a nice time with my daughter eating Chinese food and binge watching old Gilmore Girls. She’s just gotten to the right age to enjoy it.

It seems you haven’t been slacking these last two days. I can’t even begin to cover the supercallousfascistracistextrabraggadocious executive orders you’ve been putting out at such a manic rate now that you’ve decided the presidency is a monarchy and it’s okay to write laws without paying attention to Congress or the Constitution. But I would like to call your attention to latest whack-a-doodle idea you had and the chaos it’s creating.

Your ban on Muslim refugees. Now I know you think it’s “working out very nicely”, and you want us to buy the line that it’s “not a Muslim ban”, and that the everyone was “totally prepared”, but you really aren’t a magician, and the lies you say are not magic spells that make everyone lose track of reality.

In provable reality, people are being stranded in airports, families are separated, vulnerable old people and children are going without medicine and care, and even a man who helped the US by translating for our soldiers is stuck because of your racist nonsense. Oh yeah, and they all happen to be from predominantly Muslim countries—so nah, you’re wrong. It is a Muslim Ban. That’s why the cab drivers at JFK have gone on strike. They’re Muslim!

There’s a reason a judge granted a stay against your crazy ban. It’s likely not Constitutional.

Re-read your Oath of Office.

Michelle Chalfoun

What I didn’t include in the letter is that during my hiatus, I helped form a group in my town dedicated to resisting DJT and his racist, authoritarian, crazy agenda. I think we’re going to be very successful. If you want to do that in your town, go to https://www.indivisibleguide.com

It’s a great guide to forming a rebel cell. Yay Team Democracy!




Why I Don’t Always Stand Up to Racism

So I love my job taking care of medically fragile children in schools. I love the hours, the vacations, the fact that I get the same days off as my own kids, and I love the children I take care of. I love the problem solving and the physicality and independence. I feel like I’m doing something positive and worthwhile.

But I have one complaint: one of the schools in which I work is located in a town that has been tried and found guilty of systematically denying housing to people of color.

Needless to say, this town went heavily for the Prez-elect.

In the classroom where I work, most of the kids are being raised in pro-Trump households. These kids are given to saying things like, (and I heard this just last week): “Over the Christmas break I played a blah, blah video game and my team’s name was Trump’s Wall. We were awesome.”

At this point, one aide who knows my family whispered to me, “Did I hear that right?” and I said, “Yes you did.”

But other than that, I kept my mouth shut.

I did not take this child aside and tell him that my own son was taunted at a recent wrestling match with “Build the wall” chants. I did not explain that Trump’s Wall is not something everyone feels equally enthused about. That “the wall” is used to tease brown kids regardless of their citizenship status, and therefore has become a racist meme.

I didn’t speak up because I know I am behind enemy lines, and I need this job, and I like this job and I want to keep this job.

And that, rich white folks, is the reason poorer people of racial and ethnic minorities don’t always correct you when you say something offensive. It’s not because what you said is okay, or because they were okay with it. It’s because they don’t live in the same bubble of safety. So the next time you hear someone getting away with something offensive, or the next time you feel you can’t possibly be racist because no one has ever called you on it, not even your co-workers of color, think again. Maybe no one has called you on it because, like me, they value their paycheck.

And guys, it goes the same for women. Just because they didn’t call you out on your comment, it doesn’t mean they were good with it. It just means they need the job. So stop using other peoples’ silence as an excuse for continued bad behavior.

You all know the difference between right and wrong. Stop pretending you don’t.






Re-reading and Re-thinking Post Election

I went back and re-read some of my blog posts from not very long ago, and I’m feeling enough of a cringe that I considered removing some. But I’ve decided not to, because first of all, almost no one reads my blog. But second of all, the posts show me something about myself at specific points in a pre-Trump year.

Now everything’s changed.

Prior to the election, I actually hoped and nearly believed that despite continued violence and aggressions constantly in the news and in our lives, that we as a nation were on an continuous upward trend. I really love the idea that the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. So I didn’t want my kids to constantly be thinking about race and racism. I wanted them to have an innocent bubble of a childhood–I wanted them to have what white kids have–the privilege to just be kids.

So yeah, we had conversations about racism, colonialism, white privilege, micro-aggressions etc. But I hoped it would all remain largely theoretical. I hoped it didn’t really touch them. I hoped that at least in the NY area, we’d moved past that.

I had purposely moved us to a neighborhood where my kids look like a lot of other kids so they could just be themselves, not the representative of a culture, not a token, and not a victim of racism. I hated that about my childhood, being the only Arabs in town. When they needed someone to play Yasser Arafat in the school UN, it had to be me. When I did a cooking demo, it had to be tabbouli. And I would never say anything when kids sang “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”. No teachers told them to stop, that it was racist. Because we were at war. And it was okay back then to say, “Bomb them all, let God sort it out.” Even the teachers said things like that.

But my parents had moved us to that town instead of settling on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn because they didn’t want us to be stuck in a Middle Eastern enclave–they wanted us to assimilate because being “American” was the goal.

Everyone does the best they can with their limited knowledge and experience.

And there I go again, being the apologist. It’s my tendency–to try to smooth things over, to try to understand the mistakes of others and forgive them. And as a result I haven’t done  a very good job listening to my kids, because I so, so, so wanted their childhoods to be pain free. I wanted to tell them, “No, the world isn’t that horrible, that racist, that mean-spirited.” I wanted to excuse the racist things they heard as ignorance, or the result of a poor education. I guess I didn’t want to believe that so many people were still really like that.

But now there is hard proof. Yes, so many people are still really like that.

So now I am sorry for the wimpy way I tried to play both sides, tried to keep the peace, tried to wish it all away, tried to believe that the bad things they heard were just small anomalies and weird left-overs and definitely on the way out.

Next time my kids say they think someone or something is racist, I hope I will just listen. I  hope I will ask them how they feel,  hug them, and  listen. I hope I won’t try to smooth the bad feelings away with an apology for the ignorance of the world. But I might make that mistake again and again and again. Because I am a product of this country and I still want to  buy the lie that America is the land of equal opportunity, and our history is a steady upwards march towards justice. I still keep hoping some miracle will happen and this situation will be corrected, that’s how thick my denial is.

And I just want my kids to be happy. The mom in me wants them to believe that hard work and fair play gets the prize, regardless of everything else.

I would really love to hear from some other moms on this.




Caring for Children Post Election


It’s awful when the bullies win, but sometimes they do. A child I love dearly has been dealing with this: the bullies get to do what they do, and it’s up to her to figure out how to take care of herself in spite of it, because there really are no repercussions to their actions, despite the concern and apologetic handwringing of school administrators. (See: When “Victim” Looks Like “Crazy” ).The bullies haven’t done enough to get expelled or suspended. And they laugh at being verbally chastised.

Laws are laws, after all.

It’s awful when the bullies win on a larger  stage, too. Because despite how you feel about the US election, if you are a thinking adult who cares for children, you must recognize in your heart that the language he used was the language of bullies. Calling people “loser” and “pig”, denigrating their differences, interrupting with “Wrong!”, physically menacing, verbally threatening, and a myriad of his other tactics are the tactics of bullies, and we do right to teach our children to avoid behaving that way, because of course we don’t want our children to behave like that, do we?

Or do we?

My children are understandably upset. They’ve only known the Obamas, who, whatever you may say about their policies, have been a scandal-free, positively classy example of good behavior. Also, my son has been taunted at school that he is going to get deported. I have reassured him that his citizenship is full and final and irrevocable.

But  is it? Look what happened to the Jews in WWII, or the Japanese on our own soil.

This is all I want to say about this.

What I really want to do, post election, is take care. Of myself, my children, my clients, my mother, and my community.

Self care so far means sleep, healthy food, a media blackout, classical music in lieu of NPR, and reaching out to friends and family. Stepping up the yoga, meditation, and prayer. Shutting down conversations that make me feel violated. Donating money to causes I care about.

Care for my children looks much the same. I advise them to focus on what they can do to make their lives and futures better. I advise my son, a news junkie, to take a break from it.

I welcome anyone’s thoughts about positive self care after this wounding, ugly election. As a nurse and mom, I want to focus on healing–not finger-pointing, blame, or handwringing angst.

How do you take care of yourself and your own?



Daily Prompt: Careful (talking to my kids about racism)

snowboard-663304_1280via Daily Prompt: Careful

I don’t usually use the daily prompts, in part because I don’t get the chance to visit my blog daily. When I have a few moments to write, I’m often working on my next book. But this prompt jibes with what’s on my mind right now.

Lately I’ve found myself advising my children to be careful when they make an assumption about someone else’s racism.

My son, who loves snowboarding, has been looking forward to joining the high school ski club since 6th grade. Finally, he’s old enough. At the first meeting, he noticed that most of the kids were white. He has radar for this: he’s always noticing the ratio of white to brown and whether it reflects the general population of the town, or school, or whatever. He came home pretty keyed up. According to him, a white girl had looked at him and said, “What are you doing here?”

I’ve gotten careful to not jump in with my take. Instead I said, “How did that make you feel?”

“Angry! I was so angry!” He talked about how he was gonna school her–she was gonna feel like a fool when she saw how awesome he was in the terrain park. (He’s been snowboarding since he was 5, and he is awesome.)

“That was so racist!” my son said.

I admitted it was pretty ignorant, and that it might have been racist. Or it might have been classist. Or maybe she assumed he wasn’t into snowboard or skiing because he wasn’t one of the preppy, jock kids. Maybe she just didn’t like him. We talked about how it is true that we don’t see a lot of Latinos on the mountains we go to, in part because there just isn’t a tradition of snow sports in Central and South America, so when people move north, skiing and snowboarding just isn’t on their radar. Maybe that was the reason that girl had made that ignorant comment.

I said I hoped comments like that didn’t keep kids out of the club who could otherwise enjoy doing something their family didn’t traditionally do.

I do wish people were more careful with their casual comments.

Yesterday, I took my daughter shopping for a new mattress at BJs. As we were leaving the store with it, a child asked her mom, “Where did she get the money for a new mattress?”

“That’s so racist!” my daughter said.

“Maybe not. Maybe that kid wants a mattress herself, and her mom just finished saying they couldn’t afford one. So maybe it was more about jealousy, or curiosity.”

I don’t want my kids to always be on the lookout for the racist comment. There are plenty, and they come all the time, in the weirdest places, in the weirdest ways. But I’ve learned it’s nicer to get through your day mostly ignoring the non-threatening ignorance. I could be cut by every stupid comment, or I can let it roll off, and think that it has more to do with that other person’s shortcomings than anything about me, and just get on with my day.

We were watching Zootopia on Netflix, and my kids were pointing out every moment that was about racism, or profiling, or awkward inter-racial relations. A sweet, fat, and probably gay tiger called a bunny “cute”, and she, rather uncomfortably, explained only a bunny can call another bunny “cute”, but other species should avoid that word.

The tiger was mortified and apologetic.

Maybe I am too much of an apologist for the people who say such stupid things, but really, I bet a lot of people, especially kids who haven’t learned any better yet, are like that tiger.