Random header image... Refresh for more!

To the Guy Wearing the Offensive T-Shirt in Our Hotel Lobby

Dear Man Wearing the “Everything I Need to Know about Islam I Learned from 9/11” T-shirt in Our Hotel Lobby:

Through a stroke of luck, my husband saw you when he went downstairs at the hotel to get a cup of coffee before we took our kids to the breakfast room.  It gave us a chance as parents to talk to our twins about you before they saw the t-shirt themselves and asked about it.  Because, believe me, kids notice all the shit you don’t want them to see.

When my husband told the kids what your t-shirt said, knowing they might encounter you when we all went downstairs a few moments later, they were confused.  Why would someone wear something like that?  Well, that’s a good question, kids.  Who the hell proclaims their ignorance across their body?  A college, yes.  A favourite sports team.  Even hipster sayings such as “this is not a t-shirt.”  But hate-mongering?

This is what you taught my kids with your t-shirt: they learned that there are terrible people in the world, and I’m not talking about terrorists.  I’m talking about the sort of people who they are statistically much more likely to encounter, people like you.

The ones who will have already formed an opinion about a person before they open their mouth and interact with a person based on their religion. Or their skin colour.  Or sexuality.  Or the amount of money or education they have. Or their age.  The ones who will judge people before they’ve done anything — uttered even one word — to show what sort of person they are.

And that sucks.  It sucks as a kid to learn about that.  And learn about that.  And learn about that.  There have unfortunately been many opportunities in their young lives to talk about this with them, whether it was overhearing adults talking about Trayvon Martin or seeing some flippant remark in my Facebook feed during the last election. They get it. They know.

But it doesn’t suck any less every time it is reinforced.

Because they know, they will change the way they navigate this world. Instead of being themselves, they will hide essential parts of their being that they can hide, or their posture will be an apology for the things they can’t hide.  They will tuck a mezuzah necklace into their shirt in order to not be judged.  They’ll say they’re going on a vacation rather than taking off for a holiday.  They’ll not volunteer openly who they love or they’ll vaguely answer questions about their ethnicity.  Whatever it is that the yous of this world will judge them on, they’ll figure it out and adjust accordingly.

And the world will be worse for that.

Because all of our kids are learning this horrible message: that there are people out there who hate them and they’ve never even met them.  The answer some of them arrive at is “don’t be myself.”  The way they interpret this message — from quiet self-hatred or low self-esteem all the way to suicide — differs from child to child.  But most of them get to “don’t be myself” eventually: at least, all the ones who find themselves on the receiving end of someone else’s hate.

So thanks for wearing your t-shirt into our hotel and reinforcing once again what my kids have already figured out: that some people would rather approach the world in a state of hate instead of a state of love.  I am sorry that your experiences in this world taught you to move through the world this way.  But I really don’t want my kids to learn whatever you learned.

So next time you book a room at a large, chain hotel, please think for a moment before you pack your wardrobe.  And dress in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the people around you.

Signed,

Mother who wanted to vomit that she had to have this conversation yet again with her children

41 comments

1 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 09.23.13 at 8:02 am }

Ugh. Just… ugh. I know I’m supposed to embrace differences, but there are times when I look around and wish I could zap all the closed-minded people and open their minds. I just look at this world, and think about all the conversations I’ll have to have, explaining why this person hates that one, why violence is so entrenched in our society, why we have to guard ourselves around certain people, and I think– I don’t want to have these conversations. I want my children (and myself) to exist in a world without so much ugliness.

Of course, therein lies the flaw in being a liberal– you kind of get to an “anything goes” kind of mindset, a freedom to swing your fist anywhere you’d like unless it starts striking my face, and thus, we don’t hold at our core a desire to restrict other people’s stupid and hateful thoughts. We just work to teach acceptance to our children, while those who are less accepting work to constrict freedom of opinion and thought (and in my opinion, in the total wrong direction…). Ugh. Just… ugh.

2 Carrie { 09.23.13 at 8:09 am }

I read many blogs, and have never before commented on a single one…but this is post so wonderful that I can’t just lurk. LOVE this post. Perfectly well said.

3 Tiara { 09.23.13 at 8:50 am }

Well said. Thank you

4 Kristin { 09.23.13 at 8:58 am }

I hate those shirts as much as I hate shirts like the one I saw a few months ago. That one said “It’s a black thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
Thank goodness your kids have parents like you and your husband to help them navigate the idiocy that is out there.

5 Kasey { 09.23.13 at 10:03 am }

My heart just aches. Its so awful that this is the world we live in and that we will bring future generations up in. The only hope is that our future generations are taught to love more and hate less. I think parent’s that take the time to spread the message of “love thy neighbor” (and not just the one to the left, but all thy neighbors in the entire neighborhood) are the ones who are helping spread the message of “love”.

6 Ana { 09.23.13 at 10:10 am }

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about race and tolerance…I used to think it was enough to simply “model” tolerance & expose children to diversity to maintain their inborn color-blindness. But when we are up against stuff like THAT T-shirt, and THOSE comments, and THIS mindset, no, saying nothing is not an option. We have to talk and talk often. You, as usual, seem to be doing it exactly right with your twins. I’m so grateful you share with us, I’m definitely taking notes.

7 Stacey { 09.23.13 at 10:53 am }

Perhaps that man lost his wife in 9-11. Or his children, or his whole family.

And as for explaining the shirt to your children…guess what…you could have easily waited 10-20 minutes for that man to leave the area.

You will NEVER live in a world that doesn’t have some group hating another group for one reason or another….case in point 9-11. Guess what the terrorists hated us…..so unless you plan on keeping your children in a happy bubble for all of their lives (good luck with that)….they will experience and witness all kinds of ugliness.

8 Geochick { 09.23.13 at 10:55 am }

As a mother of a child who will likely be mistaken for middle eastern descent, even though he isn’t, I’m learning how we are now stuck in the middle of the race conversation. That shirt is one example of morons I hope not to encounter, but will. Did you see the online comments aimed at Miss America??? Holy shit.

9 IzIsmail { 09.23.13 at 11:11 am }

Love ur blog, 1st time commenting.
Well said, never tolerate hate. Thank you for this post.

From an infertile & a Muslim

10 Tigger { 09.23.13 at 11:29 am }

Stacy, losing his family is not a reason to judge an entire religion because of some extremists. It’s just not. It’s not acceptable to expose other people to your hatred in such a manner. Reserve THAT for the internet, if you simply must throw your hatred and ignorance around for all to see. Wave that prejudicial flag and you can expect that people are going to be upset with you.

Mel could have waited, maybe. Perhaps they were running close to check-out time, just like the man was. Perhaps avoiding him wasn’t really an option. She used it as a teaching moment, something we should all strive to do. It would be nice not to have to do that but I think we all realize that you cannot keep your children in bubbles. We can wish we could, but we can’t. We have to keep our eyes open and teach our children when we can…and teach them how to act when they do see someone waving that flag. Just because our children are going to see ugliness doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach them how to handle it. There’s nothing quite like going out into the world and realizing that it’s not the world your parents led you to believe it was. Go ahead, ask me how I know and how much damage was done because the tools needed were not there.

11 Battynurse { 09.23.13 at 12:11 pm }

Wow. So incredibly well said. Especially about how people are teaching intentionally or unintentionally that they shouldn’t or can’t be them selves or let others see who they really are.

12 Pepper { 09.23.13 at 12:34 pm }

Well said. This is one of the most heart-breaking things I have learned through my time as a parent – having these discussion with our kids is simply the worst. So hard.

13 anon { 09.23.13 at 12:50 pm }

Learn about Islam… it is honestly a religion of hate. Extremists are not the outlaws in that religion.

14 Lollipop Goldstein { 09.23.13 at 1:00 pm }

Anon, I’m not going to delete your comment because I believe everyone has a right to express their opinion (though that only extends insofar as not negatively impacting the people around you. For me, a blog comment skirts that line). But I am hugely disappointed in your words, the fact that you took the time to click over and then didn’t take the time to actually read the post.

15 Amy Elaine { 09.23.13 at 1:31 pm }

Wow, your kids are SO lucky to have such thoughtful parents. I love that you took that as a teaching moment, even though it is a yucky one . . .

16 a { 09.23.13 at 2:15 pm }

Most days, I sort of prefer for people to emblazon their ptejudices on their chest. It’s always good to know where you stand, rather than being surprised later. But for my child’s sake, I would prefer that they they keep it to themselves.

17 PNG { 09.23.13 at 2:51 pm }

Thank you for this very thought provoking post. I am thinking of, e.g., Allport’s contact hypothesis, the years to come with my children (a lot of explaining ahead), fighting my own prejudices (I think we all have some) and how important it is to get to be yourself. Thanks!

18 Rebecca { 09.23.13 at 3:04 pm }

I have to agree. But with that said, since college is such a wonderful place that I thoroughly enjoyed I’ll now represent the other side’s position. Please bear with me as I play devil’s advocate.

You just judged him without getting to know him either. You decided with one look that the t-shirt he threw on that morning was the statement he was looking to say and said well enough to offend you. You decided to warn your children against him yet again judging him without knowing him. In some cases that could be understood as spreading hate too.
Perhaps the man had a reason for wearing that t-shirt? Maybe he had a loved one die in 9/11? Maybe he knew an Islamic person, dated one is not an impossibility either considering most of the causalities were in in NYC and that person turned on him on that very day?
Maybe the guy was a former soldier, firefighter, cop, or even worked in one of the buildings that got hit that day? In that case I think he probably might just have the right to be jaded.

Now back to the other side, I doubt any of the above actually apply and in all likelihood the man is just a douche bag but I won’t judge him until I get to know him and that possibility is slim so for now I’ll just ignore him unless he is need of medical attention or with his hand out on the street looking for food or a job.

19 Lollipop Goldstein { 09.23.13 at 3:31 pm }

If you were in my class at college, I’d have to return your paper marked up 🙂

There is a difference between judging an individual based on their individual actions or words vs. judging an entire group based on the actions or words of a small minority. In my case, my judgment is based in evidence: guy wears a jerky t-shirt in public, proclaiming his hatred. What is his judgment based on? Certainly not the 1.6 billion people practicing Islam. How can anyone claim to know 1.6 billion people all at the same time?

I know YOU don’t believe that other position.

20 Catwoman73 { 09.23.13 at 7:49 pm }

I must be really naive, because I can’t believe anyone would even MAKE t-shirts like that! I hate that I’m raising my daughter in a world where attitudes like that exist. Horrible.

21 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.23.13 at 8:53 pm }

“Who the hell proclaims their ignorance across their body?”

WTH, indeed.

Dear Anon (12:50):

I did learn about Islam by living in a middle eastern country for two years, a country in which Islam was the prevalent religion and culture. My husband and I were treated warmly at every turn by Muslims. For two years. Hospitality and kindness at. every. turn.

I suppose you consider Westboro Baptists inlaws in their religion?

22 anon { 09.23.13 at 9:32 pm }

The kind strangers you encountered did NOT follow Islam. They were great people who ignored the doctrines of hate that are a part of Islam.

23 nicoleandmaggie { 09.23.13 at 9:59 pm }

I’ve been reading a lot of this tumblr lately: http://yoisthisracist.com

So, I’m confident that I can say that yes, that was a racist shirt. Playing devil’s advocate on behalf of racists is stupid. Wearing that shirt in public was a public act of racism. And anon here is racist and not worth arguing with or allowing to go anywhere other than the spam filter.

Racism is whack.

24 IrisD { 09.23.13 at 10:33 pm }

Great post, thanks! Had DH and I had children they would have in all likelihood been raised as Muslims. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not very religiously devout. DH is Muslim and more observant. Turns out our upbringings and values, emphasis on education, service, and love of family, could not have been more similar. I’d like to think that I would have taught my kids to practice and preach love and tolerance. I’m very big on Rumi, and the mystical and spiritual traditions of all faiths.

25 Jessie { 09.23.13 at 11:54 pm }

When I was a kid, I remember when the first black family moved into our kinda white trash southern MD neighborhood because people spray-painted things on their house that I’m not going to repeat. I was 6 at the time, and my dad took me for a walk and took me to see it, explaining to me for the first time that there were people who didn’t like other people because of the color of their skin. That’s still one of the strongest memories of my childhood.

26 St. E { 09.24.13 at 2:36 am }

Wow.

Well, I like all kinds of cool on T-shirts, and I like all sorts of cool graphics, and all sorts of cool cliches (‘Normal is Boring’ kind), but this message that he shared is pure hate.

There are extremists/orthodox/fundamentalists in all the religions of the world. And no, if all that he learnt about Islam was from 9/11, he must be pretty cylindrical, because there is a sea of goodness out there, and he is just focussed on the swamp.

I feel sorry for him. To live a life so heavily under the “hate” category must be so sapping.

And then, I must also tell you that this won’t be the first time I have encountered someone saying it out loud about Islam negatively. Ugh.

27 jjiraffe { 09.24.13 at 3:58 am }

Seriously, someone was wearing a shirt that said that? How depressing. Deep long sigh.

If there is one overarching philosophy I ascribe to, it’s this: it’s so important for humans to try to keep an open mind about every single other individual, as much as we possibly can. This can be extremely difficult, but I find that hearing stories of other people we might not come into contact with is often the most compelling way to do this. (Which is why the VOTY ceremony was so moving, and why blogging is remains important.) We all have more commonalities than differences, but ancient and recent history has shown that all too often, sociopaths show up to try to separate us with their despicable words and actions. Let’s do our best not to let them.

28 Chickenpig { 09.24.13 at 6:55 am }

Kudos to your kids. I would not have had this problem because 1) my kids have absolutely no knowledge of current events and 2) my kids don’t know what any religions are, including Islam. Not to mention the fact that I rarely have a clue as to what other people are wearing, and when I do see what other people are wearing I rarely give a shit.

You are one of the kindest and sensitive people I have ever met (in the metaphysical sense) You take things really close to the heart, which I admire about you. But have you ever thought of just shrugging your shoulders and saying to your kids “Get a load of that asshole” ? and just moving on? Because sometimes people are just assholes. And growing a thicker skin and being able to not let an offensive shirt screw up your day is an important lesson, too. You give people a lot of credit, that dude probably doesn’t think at all about the world he lives in, let alone the statement his clothing makes. I work with the public every day, and a guy came in with a very cool shirt about preserving an African-American graveyard with a neat image of an actual tombstone across the front. Cool artwork I appreciate, so I complemented him. He looked down like he was noticing it for the first time, shrugged, and said “I got it at the Salvation Army for 6 bucks.” No lie.

29 Stephanie { 09.24.13 at 2:04 pm }

This comes at such a good time for me, as a colleague’s husband, a Sikh, was just beaten up and called Osama and a terrorist in his own neighborhood in NYC. What’s even more heartbreaking is that he and his wife have devoted their professional lives to helping the community in which they live and work. It breaks my heart every day that they now are afraid.

30 Katie { 09.24.13 at 3:22 pm }

I’m not sure what’s worse: the T-shirt or the anonymous commenter. Regardless, your letter was perfect. I wish you could have printed it and tacked it to that asshole’s shirt.

31 Katie { 09.24.13 at 3:31 pm }

Stacey: I find your comments just as narrow-minded as the viewpoint of the man who was wearing the shirt. This line struck me in particular: “so unless you plan on keeping your children in a happy bubble for all of their lives (good luck with that)….they will experience and witness all kinds of ugliness.” Yes, kids will experience all sorts of ugliness in their lives, but does that not give Mel, or any other parent for that matter, the right to address is?

Do you know what happens when hatred and ignorance is ignored? It continues. Turning your cheek doesn’t make it stop, but addressing it can. What Mel did is show her kids outside of that “bubble” (and I highly doubt her kids live in a bubble, which you’d know if you were a regular reader of her blog), and help pave the way for them to be the types of individuals who stand up to that sort of ugliness – not turn their cheeks.

32 Sara { 09.24.13 at 4:32 pm }

Oh Mel, I’m so sorry. What a rotten experience. It sounds like you handled it as well as possible.

I think that the comments are interesting, in that they show how generally bewildered people are about how to handle various forms of prejudice. For example, Kristin’s comment seems to make an analogy between someone publicly expressing hate toward a marginalized minority community within this country, and a member of a marginalized minority community within this country expressing their feelings about the fact that there are elements of the lived experience of visible minorities that may be difficult for people in the majority to understand. I agree that both t-shirts will often have the effect of making readers feel bad, but the situations are hardly equivalent.

I agree with Ana’s comment that it’s not enough to “enough to simply “model” tolerance & expose children to diversity to maintain their inborn color-blindness”. However, one of the main reasons that I disagree is that while children are usually tolerant of difference unless taught not to be, I have never met a child who is color-blind (in the racial, as opposed to biomedical, sense). Furthermore, “color-blindness” in practice often amounts to assuming that everybody is white, Christian, straight, etc., and treating them as such. That is not my idea of tolerance. In other words, I think that it’s important to be an anti-bigot (in the sense of working hard to acknowledge, address, and remove, our own prejudices, and modeling these good behaviors for others), rather than just striving not to be an active bigot (avoiding the whole issue by ignoring difference).

This may not have made any sense. One final comment I’ll make is that people seem to be assuming that none of the innocent people killed on 9/11 were Muslims. Not true.

33 Sara { 09.24.13 at 4:35 pm }

P.S., re-reading my comment, I want to clarify that I am not saying that Kristin claimed that the two t-shirts were equivalent. I am just surprised by the juxtaposition of two things that seem to me to be very different.

34 Brid { 09.24.13 at 9:21 pm }

It is so tricky trying to explain these things. I’ve found that even though Jack never needed me to re-direct behaviour race/prejudice-wise, I felt it was important that he sort of understand the histories. So, it’s impossible to explain that much has improved, without letting him know that such things existed in the first place. His reaction was profound. I think this is part of the challenge as we raise a generation without racial/religious/gender-based, etc… prejudices.

35 Brid { 09.25.13 at 12:02 am }

Also, it’s Tuesday. Did anything happen? To anyone?

36 Ugh { 09.25.13 at 9:30 am }

Ugh. I know there are right wing teabaggers who think bigotry toward Moslems is acceptable, but readers of an infertility blog? Boy, that rally saddens me. To those who commented something like ” well maybe they lost someone in 9-11, then hate is justified”–REALLY? Do you really think that? So sad.

9-11 was no more about Islam than the OK bombing was about Christianity.

Did anyone watch all-American Muslim on tlc a couple years ago? It was a great show, showing normal people who happened to be Moslem. One featured character was even going thru IF. Well, there was a backlash against the show by right wingers claiming the show was subversive because it was portraying Moslems as normal people and hiding their true dangerous agenda. Just like one of your anon commenters is claiming. Seriously sad.

If the t-shirt were about any other religion the vast majority of people would be shocked and disgusted–think swastika. But it’s about Islam so seemingly regular peeps are here defending it because maybe the guy had been a firefighter in NYC. So so sad.

37 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 09.25.13 at 11:05 am }

You saw this already?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3di8Vw15XY

You’ll like it. 🙂

38 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 09.25.13 at 11:10 am }

Some of it anyway…

39 Amber { 09.25.13 at 9:57 pm }

It’s so hard to comprehend the way that some people think. I can’t imagine wearing a t-shirt like that!

40 Emma { 09.26.13 at 1:49 pm }

Well said! You are seriously an inspiration to me when it comes to having conversations with your kids about the less than happy apects of life. They are truly lucky to have a mom like you!

I hate that I’ll have to have conversations about ignorance like this with my kids.

41 Brubble { 05.20.14 at 11:47 pm }

Your sensible and realist based approach to parenting is absolutely wonderful. Keep your children haboured in their safe little bubble or church group or where ever is the most sheltered. Let them know only that the world is all candy floss and unicorns where no one is a suicide bomber. They shouldnt be taught to understand that there are people who will stop at nothing to indiscriminately destroy and maim and kill, wives, husbands, children, yes even YOUR precious little naive angels. Hate to break it to you but there ARE people out there who HATE you AND your kids and will ‘go to heaven’ for killing. Your 4th paragraph sums up the fanatics who WILL KILL over these very simple things and this guy is just wearing a t-shirt. By all means carry on sheltering your kids instead of taking the time to explain why these certain people of Islam think and act the way they do and why the world isnt one big rainbow. Instead focus on the “ignorant man in his bad t-shirt” Better yet, have them read up on some of the latest and greatest out of Africa (just one of many places on this peace loving planet) where the wonderous Islamic faith is slaughtering hundreds upon hundreds in the name of their “god” and kidnapping little girls to sell them into slavery, once again, under Islam. Wonderful! Where can I buy one?
You feel this guy is ignorant? He could very well be; but did you stop to think for a second past your own pompous parental self righteousness that perhaps this guy who was wearing this shirt lost some of HIS family or HIS wife? Maybe he was a veteran who lost his friends to FANATIC ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS ( yes they really do exist)? Perhaps he was a veteran who got off his ass and made that sacrifice instead of sitting behind closed doors and his white picket fence and flower garden content in his own self imposed purposeful ignorance?

Islam does NOT tolerate other religions, or womens rights and so on and so forth. Of course all cant be demonized who follow that faith but their extreme intolerance of EVERYTHING THAT IS NOT ISLAM is very dangerous and it is a REALITY. (read that last sentence again) So get off your soap box and take your head out from under the blanket. But of course, life is all bliss until it happens to you and yours. After all, you and your sheltered kids wont be blown to pieces so it’s not really an issue…”statistically speaking” of course.

Leave a Comment

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author