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