Unboxed

The only minority I see in this world consists those who stand up for what they believe, not for what their associations dictate.

I’m an immigrant, a woman who’s from a muslim majority country. A Turkish native and a Utah transplant for  14 years now. And I voted too on Tuesday, as well as millions of American born citizens.

Donald Trump’s victory was something that stood very little chance and not taken seriously by many Americans until he became the President elect on Tuesday night. So many of us were in shock, maybe even in denial, as well as the rest of the world that was watching America.

It seems like this is the new “cool” in today’s world leaders to be more aggressive, dominant and show this level of comfort with offensive and divisive statements in the expense of  dismissing the concerns of those who don’t agree with them. And it’s scary.

But why does it work? I believe, majority of the people in the world feel ignored, left behind and they’re fed up with false promises. We created a world that individual voices are powerless and people are forced to be a part of something bigger than themselves to be heard. And that comes with its consequences, a code of conduct. When you are in a team, you think like the team, act like the team, and internalize all personal conflicts that don’t fit the team’s agenda. And as the fear and money continue to rule the world, many people are convinced that victory is only won with an aggressive approach that will deprive the opponent of their self esteem and identity. It’s this team mentality that invalidates the individual’s ethical dilemma.

We all know what Donald Trump said about immigrants, women and other minorities. He wasn’t discrete about what he thinks of us. And yet millions of Americans ended up voting for him. As this fact might be sobering, eye opening and hard to contemplate for most of my sincerely concerned, good hearted American born friends, as an immigrant I wasn’t too surprised. Because discrimination does exist, but it can be so subtle, so tenuous that it might not recognize itself. Those of us who are categorized as minorities see this every day in one way or another. It’s the kind that can’t be protected by law, but at the mercy of every individual’s conscience. And that’s why it’s hard to believe for so many Americans that so many other Americans support the man who said what he said, although the quiet elephant was in the room for so long.

I came to this country for an internship which turned to a job offer after 18 months. I ended up starting a family and make this country my new home. I became your friend, your neighbor, your kids’s playdate’s mother, your family, your patient, your customer and at some point I’ve become your problem. You had to defend my rights, speak up for me, tolerate my accent, started non profits, or you simply ignored my very existence. And I’m grateful to those who did stand up for non-discrimination. But racism, sexism and all separating beliefs are rooted so deeply in most of us, that it won’t reach to our awareness until someone points it out. No amount of regulations can change the subconscious tendencies that many of us are not even aware of. The surfacing fear and unease about the minorities, has never been so much about how one looks, how one sounds but more about the groups, one was placed in. As the world was trying to fit me in a box either to protect or to weed me out, I was putting my life’s work to get out of the box and defy all the conventions and beliefs that I grew up and live with. But my stereotype was too big to fail.

You see, I might not sound or look like a typical American, but not all the Turks have dark hair and dark eyes or support my views about religion and social issues neither. As a matter of fact, I’m of an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey too. I’ve been frustrated with the government’s actions and policies, but I love my homeland. I long having a cup of Turkish coffee by the Bosphorus with my friends and family. I crave long conversations around Sunday breakfasts, my favorite little soup place, the sound of saz.

I’m able to love where I come from and where I made home and its people without feeling obligated to defend their political agendas. I don’t sign my name under everything related to Turkish people, religion or women. I don’t let my family, country or society to choose for me. I don’t buy into empty, inflated concepts of patriotism, religious doctrines that are so rigid that one more inch to either side of the line can make you a trader or a patriot, a saint or a sinner.

I don’t represent east or west. I’m a secular who supports religious freedom. I love the depth of relationships, the food, the people back in my homeland as I love the personal freedoms, non invasive relationships, individuality over here. I don’t eat pork, but I don’t hate the bacon lovers. I come from a predominantly Muslim country, but my kids went to a Jewish school and we celebrate Christmases, Thanksgivings, Bayrams, New Years at our house. I’m against wars, invasions, exploiting 3rd world countries, bullying foreign policies as well as I’m fed up with the leaders of those 3rd world countries exploiting their own people, lacking principle and integrity, violating human rights. I’d rather pay more taxes than seeing lives slipping through the cracks before they reach to their potential. But I appreciate the opportunities for entrepreneurship and being able to chase what makes you happy whether it is a big paycheck or volunteering for the cause you believe in.

There’s no one group of people or social definition that I completely fit in as an immigrant, a woman or a Turkish American. My empathy is not only for people who look like me, who sound like me and who think like me.

You might be hating me for something you think I represent. And you might not be aware that it’s you who put me in that group and as you continue to push me there, soon enough I might as well believe that I do belong to that group. The habitual and blind devotion or hate to a group and what it stands for is the real root of the problem here. It’s the labels that are convenient and the desperate need for belonging in this otherwise lonely world. Throughout the history and especially now, minorities are not necessarily set by sex, origin, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion but character. If you look closely, you will see that most of us in this world don’t want wars, poverty, are driven by the pursuit of a decent life and fueled by injustice, deep inside. You might find yourself more on the same side with someone who’s not from your faith, your culture, your intellectual pursuit than someone who is. But fear makes us internalize our dilemmas about the status quo and ignore our curiosity for the unconventional. We stop talking about politics when we have so much to say. We find it safer to play for the home team, to accept our place where society sees fit. But, a white male can be more passionate about woman’s rights than an African American woman. A straight woman from a Muslim country might have been more involved in legalization of same sex marriage than a lesbian, gay, bisexual or a transgender person.

It’s not who we are but where we stand in the face of adversity and injustice as well as in our every day rituals that separates or unites us. Think about it. How much do you really welcome differences in your own life, at your workplace, in your daily life. How many foreigners are you friends with, how many immigrants you’ve hired? How many foreign movies or movies telling the stories of foreigners and social issues, you actually watched or funded. Where do you get your daily dose of news and entertainment from? Do you notice the stereotypes in media, every day?

In the aftermath of the historic 2016 elections, the only minority I see in this world consists those who stand up for what they believe, not for what their associations dictate. In that sense, we will always be a minority if more and more people wouldn’t speak up their truth.

So, it’s up to you to live a life that is utterly authentic and inclusive, regardless of who’s elected. It’s up to you to make those every day choices at work, in family and friend circles, in the crowds, when you notice prejudice within you or around you. It’s up to you to support a world where it’s not required for some to suffer for the happiness of others. Change always starts within.

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