There’s no shaking it off.
To the point where I think this needs to be a new category on this blog. I seem to attract prejudice from all sides, all backgrounds, all reasons, and in all seasons. It’s not a new thing, either. I’ve always somehow attracted the most ignorant of ignoramuses that always felt the need to express themselves in the most ignorant ways in my direction, and specific to me. I don’t know when I acquired this superpower, but I’ve clearly learned zero information on how to control it/use it for evil/use it for good. The creation of this post, and this category, is my way of taking that first step towards accepting my reality, and harnessing the power of ignorance.
Yesterday, I was discussing mosques with my third group of English students. Yes, I teach. Yes, I know, with my penchant for rage, it really isn’t a good idea that I teach, and it’s a miracle I haven’t killed anyone yet. But hear me out.
I don’t actually teach. Initially, it was supposed to be a discussion group, conducted in English, so college students can improve their speaking (/reading and writing) skills and expand their minds and horizons at the same time. Initially. But somewhere along the way, the combination of demand and demand for money made it so I opened it up to young professionals. I figured, I can still apply the idea of the group, because these are still youth who have the capacity to learn/are not too set in their ways/everyone needs to improve their English/it would be nice to have enough money to feed myself.
I was wrong. I’m not ashamed to say that. I was very, very wrong. I underestimated the power of brainwashing, and ultimately, the power of ignorance. I underestimated the power of 24 years of deliberate and systematic destruction of the education system. I underestimated just how little people are taught in schools and universities. I underestimated how low the standards to pass a class/get a bachelor’s degree were. I underestimated a lot of things, and I was wrong for it. So very, very wrong.
After a few hit-and-wildly-miss discussions with my most recent group (henceforth known as Group 3), I decided that “challenging” their “preconceived notions” was not a good idea, because a) they don’t know what a challenge is; and b) they don’t realize that they have preconceived notions about anything because to them everything is fact. A few sleepless nights, nightmare-riddled sleepFUL nights, and some scary heart palpitations later, I decided that really, it wasn’t my place to make these people see anything in a different light. Clearly, the light they’ve been using has been working for them just fine up until now (proof: they’re still alive and have yet to spontaneously combust from the blinding energy generated by their ignorance), so who the hell am I to tell them any different? They are here to improve their English, so this should be my only task.
Armed with this reformed mission, I sought to choose the safest possible topic. What kind of reading do you give a group of young Sudanese with basic English skills who have been spoon-fed very specific information and have never questioned anything in their private, professional, or religious lives before? Mosques.
That’s right, mosques. What is a mosque? What is it for? How should one conduct themselves while in a mosque? That sort of thing. I figured, how much safer can you get? It’s information they already know, which has (believe it or not) been further filtered by me so as not to offend their delicate sensibilities. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Except for me. And my life. That, apparently, has *every* possibility of going wrong. Ever.
After we went over the reading, I decided to ask some questions to get a light discussion going.
Me, to the “women” in the group: “do any of you go to Friday prayer?”
“Women” of the group: No
Me: Why do you think women in Sudan don’t usually go to the mosque? I’ve always found that interesting. When I was in college, we used to go Friday prayer every Friday.
Girl: Oh… really?! <look of bewildered amazement, the way you would look at a circus animal who just did a nifty trick> I didn’t think you were that type of person.
I would like to end my recap of the discussion right here. I won’t even talk about how the only man in the group decided to then tell me that according to Sunna, it is forbidden for women to go to the mosque because, and I quote, “when they’re on their way to the mosque, men in the street can see them”, or that everyone agreed that a woman should pray “in her home, in her room”, or any of that stuff. I would like to concentrate on how this young lady just threw her prejudiced cards in my face, and didn’t even think twice about it.
“I didn’t think you were that type of person”.
For the more well-intentioned/slower of my readers, she meant, “I didn’t think you were the type of person that prayed”. Why would she think that? Because I, unlike her, do not cradle my head in a shimmering scarf sling, or wear flowy clothing, or have all the other “prerequisites” of a woman who prays …………. whatever the hell those are.
I won’t lie. It didn’t hit me right away. It didn’t hit me right away that this young woman just spat her disdain in my face with a smile on hers. It didn’t hit me right away that she basically called me a heathen and then smiled, like I should be grateful that she thought me worthy of correction. It didn’t hit me right away that this young woman, for 2 weeks now, has made a judgement of me based solely on my appearance. She took one look at my exposed hair and my boisterous laugh (it’s terrible, I throw my head back and everything) and decided that I am too comfortable to be a good, God-fearing person. When I asked them to speak up on the first day, and again on the second day, because I couldn’t hear what any of these Mumbling Mables were saying, she took it as me trying to lead her and her innocent lamb-friends down the path of debauchery and degradation.
It didn’t hit me right away. But then it did. Like a rock to the face. For the first few stunned seconds after I was hit, I thought about how I should reply. I thought about kicking her out of my group. I thought about yelling at her. I thought about simply retorting with, “Seriously?!”. But then I remembered my mission, and decided not to say anything – better yet – to pretend as if she had never said anything.
Because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what this young lady thinks of me. It doesn’t matter if she thinks I’m a heathen, or a saint, or a street walker who rubs her body on poles and penises to make a living. It doesn’t matter because this young lady has absolutely no idea who I am, and will never find out. Worse, she will never bother to find out. And that doesn’t matter, either. Because this young lady has no idea who she is, and will probably never know, and never bother to find out.
I don’t say this out of spite. I say this because a person who has never been taught to question, who has never learned to explore the deeper meanings of what they are taught or what they do or who they are, will never see the benefit or the necessity of doing that. How can you take a critical look at what’s around you, when you don’t know what it is to be critical?
Sudan has a long, long, long way to go.