My sister always taught me the importance of cultivating an interesting personality, possibly because she knew our personalities would otherwise be constantly overshadowed by our “interesting” cultural/ethnic backgrounds. She warned me about a lot of things that my starry-eyed self wished to never succumb to; such as, the unnervingly loud warning signs that shoot off in a woman’s brain when an endless barrage of men comment on her status while she tries to enjoy a normal walk down the street. Also, run-on sentences, but I never really listen.
Here’s what I actually want to say: Walking in public places has become an alarmingly frightening thing for me, and I almost don’t want to do it anymore.
I have a traveler’s soul and am hard to dissuade from going anywhere I please at any time, but constant harassment and brute “interest” in my ethnicity (whether verbalized, or shown with a distasteful amount of eyeball-on-face/body interaction) is getting stupid obnoxious. I literally cannot walk more than two blocks without someone (ALWAYS a male) making an uninvited comment on my appearance, or gazing uncomfortably hard if I dare make any amount of eye contact.
I don’t feel comfortable anywhere I go. It does not matter what I am wearing, where I am going, how broke, homeless, ill, or closed-off I am that day.
Although this may seem like a feminist issue, I am writing it here with a purpose.
There are two main types of skeeve that I encounter in daily life—those who make unwanted advances from a distance, and those who make unwanted advances through prolonged conversation. And guess what’s ALWAYS a topic of conversation! Clearly, the most interesting thing about me, my ethnicity.
Once again, “Oh, you’re Jewish?”, “How are you Jewish?”, “Mm, that’s really interesting. I like some nice caramel skin.”
I do not care what kind of skin you like. I plan on keeping my skin attached to my body, and far, far away from yours, and if you wish to dangle my parents’ races and religions over my head as bait, then you need to go find another fish. I have no desire to be dissected for your personal fetish in half-Black, half-White, Jewish chicks. When I’m going to shul with my sister, or on a walk with my mom, not an appropriate time to approach me with your weird comments. When I’m walking with my dad and you say nothing, unless you say it to him and talk about me like I’m not there (as if it is perfectly okay to indirectly hit on a man’s daughter to said man) know that the only thing you could possibly get from me is a look of discomfort as the bile shoots up my esophagus.
I am not a walking advertisement for any race or religion. Yes, my parents did a rare thing for their time, and got married despite the national opinions about White folks and Black folks gettin’ together and making them crazy interracial babies, but that will never give you a proper excuse to act so rudely to anyone!
Stop being gross.
Stop treating me as a fetish. Stop telling me you like girls with a “…..insert inappropriate racial/ethnic slur that you try to put off as a compliment…”
And please, please for the life of me, stop saying, “Hmmm, that’s interesting” with a creepy, snide look on your face when I tell you that my mom is Jewish and my dad is Black.
Instead, go travel.
Go be an outsider in a strange place.
Look at people as people, for once, without trying to get into their pants. Find out what really makes a person interesting by asking earnest questions without hidden agendas. Go find out that there are so many multiracial, multi-ethnic people in this world, and that Jews are not only one skin tone.
Because here’s what it feels like: My boyfriend and I walk into a room, and people ask us how we met.
We say, “In Israel,” when we’re together.
People in California are wise enough to put two-and-two together, and they say, “Oh, on Birthright?” (those who have heard of the free 10-day trip to Israel).
We say, “Yes,” and then they look only at me to ask, “You’re Jewish?”
I am fully aware that these people are not intending to be rude, and that the vacant stares and looks of confusion are truly reflections of their puzzled thoughts.
However, at this stage in my life, I know that this changes not one ounce of the shitty feeling growing inside my stomach. It does not stop the twinge in my heart and the increased rate of its beat, all which make me want to wince and shiver into a slow ball of fetal-position tears.
These are moments which I know have been wholly insignificant to him, without my explanation, which I may have held off on for way too long. I guess he figured I was used to it. I’ve seen him become somewhat protective at times, being a little extra assertive when we reiterated the many told tale. Drilling it into our company’s heads that yes, we did in fact meet in Israel, because we are both Jewish, and both went on a trip requiring Jewish heritage.
When he’s not around and people ask me, “So where did you two meet?”
I start with a question. “Have you ever heard of the Jewish organization, Birthright?”
(Pause while puzzled faces either try to obtain recognition of said organization, or try to figure out why this is pertinent to me.)
“It’s a free 10-day trip to Israel if you have any Jewish heritage,” I continue.
Then come sweeping in the virulent head nods and mumbles of understanding, accompanied by confused faces once again asking, “You’re Jewish?”
I am so sick of answering a question which I have to defend so frequently that I don’t even get a chance to suss it out for myself.
What do I believe in?
Why has my self exploration regarding belief been stunted to the 6th grade?
May I ever announce myself as not Jewish, without denouncing my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece?
But most importantly, why must I acknowledge myself by creed for the sake of others, when they don’t even accept it as my reality?
Yes, I am Jewish. If you must know, by my mother.
And I am tired of explaining myself.
Hi. I am Nahara, and I am thoroughly enjoying unraveling this great red yarn of life.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.