I am not sure where these thoughts fit in, or whether they are even ready to be shared, but I keep coming back to the same conclusion and I feel like I have to write this out. So hang with me as I try to make sense of all of this.
Recently I had my US citizenship interview; that scary sit-down meeting that I have been waiting more than 7 months to have. The one where you fill out a 16 page application answering in-depth questions about your life, your intentions, your affiliations, your identity. You send it in, you pay the money, they fingerprint you and then you hold your breath hoping that they will see you fit to be given citizenship. Or even fit to be considered. And you wait, and you watch the mail, and you check their website, maybe once a day, until finally one day a notice shows up and tells you to be there or else…
So I went and my hands got sweaty and I kept thinking, what if I screw this up? What if they say no? What if the person behind the desk sees something they do not like and this means no? Then what? I walked in on shaky feet, heartbeat racing and it began. I had to answer 6 questions correctly – what is the supreme law everyone -I had to read a sentence, and I had to write. I had to pledge to say the truth and nothing but the truth. I then had to re-answer all of the same questions I had already said yes or no to on the initial application;a long rambling list of loyalty to terrorism, of whether I have committed genocide, if I have ever harmed others, held others against their will, which groups I belong to. All things that I tried not to crack up about because the questions are so crazy and as my students had said, “Who would ever say yes to any of that, Mrs. Ripp?” Yet as the interviewer quickly went through the long list of questions, not skipping a beat, I realized something once again…
No one is questioning my answers.
No one is asking follow up questions.
No one is wondering whether I am lying.
No one is questioning what my “real” intentions are for wanting to become a citizen.
No one is protesting.
No one is worried that I might become a part of this nation.
Because I am a woman.
Because I do not wear a hijab.
Because I am white.
I have written before about the inherent privilege I have in this nation as a white immigrant who looks like an American, who speaks English without an accent. About how no one thinks of me as “other” or “foreign.” About how surprised people are when they find out that I was not born here, nor raised here as a child.
I have written before about the path I am given because of things mostly outside of my control. And yet, today as I read about the removal of Adam Saleh on a Delta flight and tried to find out more about the story, I realized another thing; how many times have I sat on a flight and spoken on my phone to my family in Danish and the only questions I have gotten were delightful ones about that fun language I was speaking? How I have never been questioned about the content of my conversation or been seen as a threat because I spoke another language. How no one has ever looked at me with fear because of an every day action.
And I think of my Muslim friends where the opposite is their new reality. Where they are scared to walk the street with their hijab, afraid of having it ripped off their heads or of the treatment they will be given. And even my friends who are not Muslim but speak a language that sounds like something dangerous. Who may look like something we are afraid of (read; not white). Where they are scared to speak their own language in case someone around them mistakes them for plotting something sinister. Since when did we get so scared? Since when did we get so close-minded when it comes to others? Since when did we equate terrorism not with the actions of a few but the culture and appearance of many?
And sure, we can find example upon example of the terror acts we have seen to justify our fears but then why are we as a nation not also terrified of white males? Why are we not terrified of people who look like my husband because white males statistically are behind more terror acts than jihadists?
So while I passed my citizenship test with ease, I left with a heavy heart. Once again, me being white offered me a privilege that will not be extended to others that I know. Once again I am aware of the situations I will more than likely never face because of where I come from and how I look. And I have no answers of what to do except to keep thinking and speaking up and teaching my students about others so that they do not end up being those people who are afraid of anything other than what they know. Who are not afraid to connect with those who might not look like them, speak like them, or even think like them. We are living in a world of fear and that fear is driving us apart, we cannot let it.