M is for Misidentification
I used to work in a nursing home. One of the residents there talked about coping with the death of two of her cousins. They were in Israel, and according to her, they were killed “by some Arabs.”
Then she turned to me and said, “I know you’re Muslim, so I mean no disrespect.”
First, “Muslim” does not equal “Arab”.
Second, even if I was Arab, I am still in no way sympathetic toward the people who killed your cousins.
Obviously, that’s not what I said. I didn’t say anything because the incident simply left me speechless.
She is one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. She had dementia, and so I could never take personally any of the negatives she had to say because I had to reintroduce who I was to her every single day. On the days that she wasn’t refusing to associate with me because I was Muslim, she would tell me how beautiful she thought my scarf was or what a lovely girl I was for pushing her wheelchair to wherever she needed to go. She would point out to me all of her favorite staff members in the facility and ask each of them how their kids were doing as she did so. She encouraged her fellow residents to stay cheerful and hopeful, even when she had no clue how they got to be her neighbors.
It wasn’t her. It was the idea she had been primed with before her disease took away her ability to remember her context.
I wore a scarf on my head. And so she identified me as a potential sympathizer to the killers of her relatives.