On Not Feeling Safe

Facing Racism in Muncie, Indiana

An Anonymous story written by Resa Matlock

Storyteller is 44

It was our destiny.

I lived in Iraq. My husband bounced between Iraq and Indiana. His mother was from Indiana and his father from Iraq. They met at IU. Our families knew each other. My sister married his brother. We met and talked, and we, and our families, agreed to our marriage.

God meant for us to be together.

When I moved to the U.S., I spoke very little English. I started to learn at the Muncie Career Center and was treated well. All over Muncie, even after 9/11 and the wars, I didn’t see any difficulty with people accepting me. I took CNA classes, became a nurse’s assistant and worked for four years until our second child was born. The hardest thing was to be away from my family in Iraq with new babies. I worked to adjust to my new life because I had no choice. This is my life. I can deal with it.

My husband has problems and his problems are my problems.

Racism is not just about black and white. Racism is not just about individuals. Racism is about families too.

I came to the U.S. having the idea that this is a free country with rules, rights, and obligations. I still have that in mind, but year after year I find more discrimination. When I was working, some people would ask why do you wear that, because I wear the hijab in public. I worked with women from Mexico, Poland, and Sierra Leone, and we sometimes felt like the other nurses treated us differently.

I tell my children we are different. We will stay different. Different is not a negative thing. People will know from our names, our color, our accent, our behavior. We are different.

My children are white, and don’t have accents, but they have Arabic names.

When I came here I became a U.S. citizen and believed that if you work hard, you would be okay. There is unfairness everywhere, but not like this unfairness that my husband has faced at his work. He doesn’t want to tell because he does not want to lose his job.

You see, my husband is a U.S. citizen. He was born here. But his boss treats him like an outsider. His boss is more than just rude. His boss is racist. His boss constantly puts him down, calls him names, cusses at him, and says terrible things about our religion. What makes it worse is that my husband never gets a break. He’s not allowed to take vacation. He works overtime and is always called in on “time off”, both of which are unpaid. No one else in the company works as much as he does.

When I say that racism impacts families this is what I mean. My husband is treated unfairly. Of course this comes home. Of course this impacts us. We believe that family time is important. And what little time we have together gets interrupted. Interrupted by these so called emergencies that I’m certain someone else can solve. Vacation days? No. He can’t use those either because it would be too chaotic at work without him. If he’s able to get a vacation days it’s never more than two days and at that, he usually has to work overtime the day before so make up for that time off.

I also worry about what this teaches our children. I want our children to know that how their father is treated isn’t ok. That they shouldn’t expect that and they should speak up. I’ve tried to help my husband stand up, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t realize that he has rights as an employee. So instead he just takes it because he’s lucky to have a job. And our children see this. Do they know that this isn’t right? Is this what they think will happen to them when they start working? Will they just accept that this is normal and they will be lucky to have a job? I hope not.

Our children come to me with their concerns or questions about school, the community, or things they see in the news. They come to me because they believe their father won’t stand up for them. They think this because he won’t stand up to his boss. So I have to take this on all by myself. I do my best to learn about whatever it is, to stand up for them when is necessary, and to teach them to do the same.

I love my husband but I’m worried about him. I’m worried about us. I’m worried about our family. He is so consumed with work things that I worry about our family. Because I handle most things with our children, I worry about what will happen if something happens to me. Will he be able to stand up and protect our kids if I can’t? Will he stand up and protect me if I can’t do so? Will it always be like this?

This story originally appeared in Facing Racism in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by R.A.C.E. Muncie in Muncie, Indiana.

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