Public Spaces as White Christian Spaces

I was at a public library this evening when two security guards walked in and disrupted the quiet to speak with a man in a corner. This man was praying and the security guards interrupted his prayer because he was in violation of library rules which say shoes must be worn at all times.

The man said there were no available study rooms where he could be by himself and therefore, not a distraction to others. The security guards, though calm in their speech, told the praying man that shoes must be worn, and that someone had issued a noise complaint against him, meaning they had to act.

This is Islamophobia.

I spoke with a head librarian with  my own complaint, asking her if their policies on shoes are so rigid that it does not account for religious observance. She assured me the library would handle the matter tomorrow and that this was a distressing situation for everyone involved. She said she mentioned to the praying man that as a public library, the establishment cannot have a bias toward one religion or another. As if allowing a man to pray would be favoring Islam. It’s a classic excuse for not being inclusive: to give even a little is to show favoritism. And that just wouldn’t be fair, now would it?

I told her the library is a Christian space because the town is predominantly Christian! You’re showing favor by not taking a stance for inclusivity  It’s the same way spaces are White Spaces unless specifically designated otherwise. The racism and exclusion that took place at this town library is a microcosm for the racism that’s happening at Mizzou, where black students are unwelcome due to verbal threats, as well as millions of verbal and non-verbal micro-aggressions each day. Unless we are purposeful in making all spaces open and inviting to people of all backgrounds, the world we walk through and inhabit will remain under the thumb of white, straight, cis male privilege. It takes effort to change ourselves into anti-racist people, why should it take any less effort to change the places we inhabit?

#Mizzou #ConcernedStudent1950

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How to Make Your Holidays Inclusive for Minorities

I used to hate it when cartoon stations I watched growing up would wish me “Happy Holidays!” when the show went for a commercial break. The way I saw it, the network could animate the interstitial with all the secular snowflakes, Rudolphs and Frosty’s it wanted, but the only message I heard was “Merry Christmas!” and I wondered why they didn’t just come out and say it. I knew that as a Jew I was (and continue to be) the minority.

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This is my first year celebrating Christmas. I’m staying with a friend in a small town in Ohio with her conservative religious family. Though I grew up in a majority Christian town, there was a synagogue down the street and I’ve lived in a east coast bubble my whole life. I’ve never sat at a table where someone prays before each meal. I’ve never been wished Merry Christmas by so many well meaning people who in all their well-meaningness assume I’m Christian because Christian is the norm.

It’s unintentionally offensive and makes me uncomfortable. Similar to my queer identity, I have to wonder if these well-meaning people would treat me with the same kindness if they knew I was not like them. Would I be so readily accepted as a Jew? As asexual?

I never noticed the extent of my privilege until I sat with my atheist friend as her family and a visiting pastor sang Christmas carols, many of which I did not know and almost all of which involved Jesus.

And I still have to check my privilege because most people at least know about Hanukkah and grant the holiday legitimacy. But what about holidays like Kwanzaa which are disregarded to such an extent I grew up believing Kwanzaa had no merit because it was only a recently established as a holiday. What I really grew up believing was that Kwanzaa had no merit because it was a holiday for African Americans. I only wish I had recognized my racism and bigotry sooner.

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As the holiday season rushes toward Christmas, here’s a list of things to keep in mind that will make the holidays an enjoyable time for all.

1. Say Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. It’s a quick way to remind yourself that your faith and traditions are not the only ones being celebrated this season and it opens the floor for communication.

2. Learn about holidays and traditions of other faiths. I got to speak to a Pastor for the first time in my life and ask him about his duties. Before my college semester ended I attended a Kwanzaa workshop with Akinyele Umoja from Georgia State’s African-American Studies Program. My friend’s family has been great about getting me the ingredients to make latkes (Jewish potato pancakes) and challah (braided egg bread).

3. Include secular traditions in your festivities. Singing secular songs and winter activities like sledding or taking frozen walks are always great ideas. Not everyone believes in God.

4. Remember that people of varying gender and sexual orientations as well as people of different races will experience the holidays differently.

I wish everyone Happy Holidays and I’m looking forward to a great New Year!