I was walking through Harrod's a few days ago (not shopping, just for the experience of walking through Harrod's) when I saw an elderly lady sitting at a little rickety booth. She was selling the red poppies that Brits put on their lapels for Rememberance Day-- a tradition that I find wonderful and moving. At this point, I still had not found a place that sold poppies (they are everywhere, but damned if I haven't seen a single vendor until this point), so I walked over to her to make my donation and get my fashionable floral accessory.
As we started chit chatting, she said quite bluntly "You have an accent" in her sort of let-it-go elderly way. I laughed and said, yes, I am from the United States. I then overshared and started talking about when my NY accent comes out and only with certain words like "water", "dog", and "drawer". She was obviously not interested. I tend to do that when I get excited.
She asked me what brings me to London. School. What am I studying. I roll my eyes, as I always do at this point, and explain that the title of my course is quite self-important, I breathe in deeply and then say with appropriate hand gestures, "The History of International Relations", after which I clarify and say "basically modern history." She says something along the lines of how we can use that nowadays. I agree.
Then, she turns the conversation. She mentions the recent shooting at Fort Hood. We agree that it was a real tradgedy and a dreadful event. She expounds on her thoughts, and confides in me her distaste for Muslim people. She asks me, "have you heard them talking? Dreadful language." She continues, and mentions some ridiculous details of an encounter with two Muslim women, filled with such hyperbolic drivel that is not even worth reproducing here. It was offensive and biologically impossible.
Not knowing whether to officially denounce the ignorance of this geriatric or just be passive, I choose the latter and don't agree with her but sort of rock on my heels, make eye contact, and tighten my lips to show my discomfort and passive disagreement. She didn't get it. I quickly concluded the conversation and walked on.
It is in situations like these where I have to make a decision: Do I express my opinion (what I would call "educated and informed opinion") in the attempt to convert her from her opinion (what I would call "ignorant and hateful opinion")? My answer is "no". She is too old. A harsh reality, but reality none the less. She isn't going to change her views no matter what spark of insight I can provide. She had hate in her heart and I couldn't heal that. Maybe others can, but I can't. My only hope is that she doesn't influence younger generations and spread lies.
So, what can you do to help combat ridiculous and harmful stereotypes? Educate yourself. Meet and listen to people of different backgrounds. Listen. Coopertation is key.
However, I can't help but admit a pang of guilt when I think back on this episode.