Spot the Arab #spotthearab
A few months ago, my daughters and I visited an art gallery that had an exhibit titled “Spot the Arab.” This exhibit had quite a few gorgeous –nay, exquisite—photographs of people who live in or are from Arab countries. Most important was the “selfie stand.” The artist was a photographer who visited Israel and Palestine to take a collection of breath-taking desert landscape photographs. The selfie stand had huge backdrops of these landscapes, plus a selection of Arab headgear for visitors to wear and take selfies, with the further invitation to share the selfies with the hashtag #spotthearab. In addition to baring the beauty of the landscapes and artistry of the Arabian portrait photography, the selfie stand was intended to help dissuade anti-Arab sentiment.
My daughters happily allowed me to dress them in a variety of scarves, often with help from the photographer as I wasn’t familiar with the ways in which the fabrics needed to be placed and wrapped in order to stay put. We took dozens of photos—I felt a little selfish with the amount of time we were taking—yet there were but a handful of others in the gallery at that moment, none of whom paused for more than a breath at the selfies stand.
My daughters looked gorgeous. As always.
“Why do they wear these, mummy?” they asked.
“Because these scarves are beautiful!” I said. I was being honest, as well as hiding my own ignorance. I knew different style scarves were used by different religious groups, but I did not know which ones were reflective of which religion.
“You’re a good mum,” said the artist. He said it several times to me, but I was speechless. Isn’t this what good parents do? Especially Mormon parents? Teach children to love and respect other cultures and religions? I just smiled back. I was sincerely enjoying myself!
After the exhibit, I learned that less than 10% of the participants who took selfies shared them on social media. That means that less than 10% of those who took photos were comfortable in sharing them. More alarming were the comments I had from friends on my own social media pages. “Have you changed your religion?” asked one. “WHY are they dressed like that?” wrote another, as if mocking was more acceptable than enjoying the cultural experience. I responded with “Why not?”
To be fair, the “likes” I had outnumbered the questioning, negative-feel responses. But the negative responses still surprised me. They were reflective of the moral judgements they made of me as a parent, as well as judging my daughters for looking so happy to be wrapped in gorgeous scarves. As if this was not okay! At the end of the day, we placed the scarves back in the share baskets, and we left the exhibit the same people we were before, during and after the photo shoot.
I was different after I shared the images on social media. I was made more aware of the biases held against those who dress differently. I was made more aware of religious biases of those who I thought were Christian and Mormon, and therefore, loving and tolerant. That part stung. And hurt.
I was also made more aware of my own biases and snap judgments that I sometimes can make on social media, and I determined to become better, kinder, more tolerant and loving. But mostly, I was glad to protect my children from such divisive thoughts and intolerant convictions—at least for the moment—as they remained blissfully unaware that others were judging the way in which I was teaching them tolerance.
So what about you, dear readers? Can you spot the Arab? And if you can, what are your presumptions?