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I used to work for an employment agency. I used to get sent off to work at different locations, mostly to help cater the lunch at big companies, and did it on and off for about three years. Though the setting and people who I worked with, or for changed, I always found myself answering the same questions, and ending up feeling the same way.
It usually started with a simple conversation, but would always be followed with the same—somehow very loaded—question "where are you from?"
I was born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. So for me the most logical and only truthful answer would be "I’m from Amsterdam." Yet, when I said that, it apparently seemed like I was lying, because they would always say "yeah, but where are you really from?"
I was born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I am really from here. See, I’m not stupid, nor am I ashamed of my family’s heritage, but where I am from, and where my family is from are different questions, each with a different answer.
To make everyone’s life easier, I simply started saying that I was from Morocco. I thought that skipping the second half of that question would save them the humiliation of asking again, and me the time and energy.
So one time, I was serving lunch at this huge international company, and was having a conversation with the chef standing behind me. About half an hour into our conversation, he asked me where I was from. I turned around, looked at him and said, "I’m from Morocco." I smiled and turned back to serve the vegetables he had made. The woman standing before me asked for the last two servings I had left, and when I turned back around to give him the empty pan, he looked at me and said, "Well, it’s good that you at least work for your money."
I remember standing there in complete shock. Words cannot describe the feeling of confusion, and, humiliation, and anger, and despair I felt. The amount of nerve and lack of decency he had, necessary to say that to me, is truly mind-blowing.
Call me naïve, but I really thought that I must’ve missed something. There is no way that he actually meant what I was thinking he did. There is no way he would’ve just said that so casually, and in this setting, right? I looked at him, trying to hide the million thoughts and emotions rushing through my mind, and said, "how else would I get the money I need if I'm not working for it?"
"Well you know, it’s in the news, everywhere really. Even my neighbors, their house was broken into, and they were robbed of everything. I’m not saying I don’t like people from Morocco, a good friend of mine is from Morocco. I’m just stating the facts."
He continued trying to justify his racism, but all I remember is wishing I hadn’t given him that empty pan, so I could’ve thrown it at his head instead.
The look on my face must’ve tipped him off, because he immediately followed his guilt plea—which showed nothing more than complete and utter lack of decency—with "oh I’m only joking. You got that right? Don’t be one of those girls who can’t take a joke," he said.
So in the short period of time it took him to fill up the pan with vegetables again, I had already experienced racism and sexism on the work floor. What’s worse than that is the way he covered his tracks, laughing it off, acting like he meant no harm. Like a wolf in sheep clothes, he acted all friendly, polite, and kind, only to verbally and mentally attack me as soon as he realized I was the enemy, the scapegoat, an easy victim: Moroccan.
Look, I’m not saying he is the devil. He’s just a 40 something-year-old man, who grew up in a different world. But that is also my point. There are so many people like him out there. So many people who let ignorance rule their life. So many people who, for some very strange reason, don’t want to accept that we live in a different world.
A kinder, more understanding, and inclusive world. Or at least, that’s the one we should try to build.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the world I want to live in.
So instead of throwing the full pan, which I now possessed at his head, yelling back at him, or doing something else that wasn't aligned with my vision of our world—I simply started to talk to him.
I asked if he knew what a syllogism was and he said no, so I started explaining that syllogisms are logical arguments that apply deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion, based on two or more statements that are asserted or assumed to be true. He nodded, and I then asked if he could see not only how unfair and hurtful it was to assume that all Moroccans are thieves, simply because some of them are, but especially that it was an error in his deductive reasoning and not at all a fact.
And you know what? He apologized and for the remaining three hours, we worked together happily ever after.