I don’t really remember being bullied much as a kid. A couple of times maybe, but I’ve always been sort of a bad-ass and would usually stare down, insult down, or beat down the attempting bully. I do remember being bullied by one girl in high school. Mickey Trent. She intentionally snapped her umbrella up so hard while walking in front of me in the crowded hallway and it cracked between my legs leaving me to question whether I’d lost my virginity to rain gear. She also pushed the back of my head down so hard while I was drinking at a water fountain that it chipped my tooth. Her best friend, Betty, was always with her and laughing. Betty ended up in my PE class and tried to be the bully once, but I had recognized by then that Betty was a mere sidekick to the evil bitch that was Mickey. So I threatened to kick her ass and she backed down. Good thing. Mickey never bothered me again after that either.
I managed to skate out of the bullied kid scene gracefully after that. I guess because I stood up for myself. I never really thought much about bullying anymore after that until I was in my 40’s. And I didn’t realize that that’s what it was until I sat down to think about this challenge. Sadly, most of the bullying I have experienced has been done to me by members of my extended family. Yeah! The people who are supposed to love me.
You see, I don’t see things in color. No, I don’t mean that I am color blind. I mean that growing up in the military the way that I did, I truly thought that the definition of “mixed marriage” was an Army man married to a Navy woman, or Air Force woman married to a Marine man. Interracial marriages were all around me. I had friends who were half Italian and half African-American, half Korean and half-white, half-German and half-Japanese. So when I married an Egyptian man, this was perfectly normal to me.
He is Muslim. I was Catholic. Neither of us were really practicing at the time that we married, but when he said that he’d like our kids to be raised Muslim, I agreed. I did not convert but lived up to my word. When our first child was born, I flew out to El Paso to be a part of a surprise party for my dad’s 50th birthday. My husband had to work and stayed in New York. After the party was over, I moved back to my dad’s place (I’d been hiding out at my sister’s condo) and decided to call my mom’s sister to go by and show her my new baby. On the phone, she was beyond rude to me. She asked me, “Well, what religion is he?” When I told her he was Muslim she snapped, “Well, that’s a shame! You could have at least made him a Catholic.” (She’d left the Catholic Church years before and became some brand of Protestant that apparently practices judging on a whole new level. So I politely but firmly said that I had called because I was proud of my new baby and that I had wanted to share that joy with her, but since she was such a sanctimonious jerk to me, she could just remove my name from her address book and never bother talking to me again.
I cried. Out of the 41 grandchildren at the time, I was probably the only one (aside from her own 4 kids) that remotely had a relationship with her. My dad said she’s an ass and to blow it off. I did.
But since that time and since becoming Muslim, I’ve had an uncle threaten to put a fork into the next Muslim he sees (I was holding a baby at the time,) an aunt who added me as a friend on Facebook only to tell me that I am a disgrace to my religious heritage and that I’m a terrible mother for deciding to take my kids and move back to Egypt where we could afford to live instead of staying in the US where we were about 3 weeks away from eviction proceedings. She threatened to kick my ass if I EVER spoke badly about HER family again (truth: I spoke jokingly about my sister and my mother being a bit nuts.) I pointed out that I was a first degree relative to my mom and sister and she was extended now. She called me a fucking cunt and then blocked me from Facebook.
Last summer, my grandmother turned 87. I was intentionally not invited to her birthday. I found out when my mother asked me if we were going. I made it clear that I was not invited to go. Another one of her sisters was throwing this shindig and used the usual “oh, I lost her email address” excuse. My email address has not changed in over ten years so whatever. I explained to my mother that this behavior was unacceptable and that we did nothing to provoke it but to let her be an asshole because my life is more pleasant without her sister in it.
I have not gone to a family function involving my maternal relatives since. Then this summer my kids and I helped my mother move from her apartment into an apartment with my grandmother. My grandmother is prone to falling down a lot and my mom has been helping her. My aunt who had excluded my family from the guest list was there. Toward the end of the day, she pulled me aside and said that she was never upset with me; that she had had a conversation with my husband a long time ago and she “flat out asked him” his opinions of this country and our government and she “felt threatened” by his answers.
My first instinct was to ask if she grilled all of the husbands of her nieces about their feelings about the US or the government or was this reserved only for those who were Arab and/or Muslim. I don’t recall my cousins who married Hispanics or the one whose husband is half-Filipino complaining about interrogations with her, so I imagine this line of questioning was special just for us “ragheads.” Hello? Prejudice much?
I’m pretty certain (and verified with him) that the only conversation that the two of them ever had at any great length was when she and my cousin drove out to our house in Georgia FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. This was just following the Monica Lewinsky scandal and President Clinton had ordered the Air Force to bomb the no-fly zone in Iraq. Obviously, when one is from the Middle East and that area of the world is being bombed, one would tune into the news to see what is happening. Also, I must point out that I speak Arabic. My husband, at that time, spoke very little English. And I don’t know what the hell he could have said that would have threatened her but he’s also a PASTRY CHEF! So unless he was going to fucking “baklava-board” her, I don’t know what the hell she feared. Regardless of what the man may or may not have said to her, she did not have any right to behave like a bully toward me by denying me and my children access to a party celebrating my grandmother.
I do have even more aunts and uncles on that side of the family who more than make up for the rude and shitty behavior of those mentioned above. They know that my husband is a good man and adores his family. They like to have conversations with him, you know, now that he speaks English. They see his sensitivity, generosity, and warmth. They also know that I am a better person now that I have embraced Islam. They can see that I am genuinely happy and are grateful for it and even ask me about different aspects of my religion to clarify the stuff they’ve heard around. I appreciate their acceptance and respect.
Since realizing that all of the ill-treatment I have received by some of the family, I have made some boundaries that I believe need to remain in place. Those who had been accepted on Facebook as friends who then intentionally posted inflammatory islamophobic or hateful words onto our timelines have been unfriended. Those who continue to send out mass emails with hateful, fear-mongering messages have had their email addresses dumped into the SPAM box and no longer upset us. We do not attack but will not continue to be attacked. Family members do not get to carry a free pass when it comes to bullying. It’s not acceptable ever.