More homogenizing of my looks

by Loolwa Khazzoom • May 12, 2013 • Jewish Multicultural Corner

Tonight I went to a totally rad, awesome, fabulous meditation event. The gal who told me about it, let’s call her A, was there, and after the program, we were chatting. Another gal, let’s call her B, was in on the conversation. She had light olive skin, dark eyes, dark hair.

Midway through the conversation, A asserted that B and I looked so much alike that she could not get over it. She went on and on (and on) about it for a while and said something along the lines of us looking like sisters. I did not think that B and I looked related, though we definitely had the same “look,” ie, a similar overall coloring and appearance as, oh, maybe a few million people in Spain, Turkey, Italy, Greece, the Middle East, and Jewish communities from Central and Eastern Europe.

I felt uncomfortable, but I could not put my finger on why, so I just stood there with a frozen smile on my face, looking from B to A and back to B again. As A continued to make me uncomfortable, going feature by feature through a comparison between B and me, I even chipped in about how we both had square brown glasses. I just felt so awkward and irritated, I was looking for something to say. In retrospect, a statement along the lines of, “I don’t think we look the same” would have done just fine, but sometimes I freeze up and opt for playing along with something dumb, so as not to appear rude. Even though, you know, the person doing something dumb is the one being rude.

Finally I was able to articulate in my head what was bothering me, but it did not seem like polite conversation, and I could not remember the damn term for what I was thinking of – namely, cross-race identification. A is black, and I got the sense that she was rather blind to the distinctions between B and me. But I don’t know A well, and race matters are kind of dicey to bring up directly while standing around socializing, especially when you don’t know where someone is coming from or what their track record is on race matters in general, so I said nothing.

After A went so far as to suggest that B and I exchange notes to see if we are in fact related, however, I had to put the matter to rest. As soon as A left, I approached B, to confirm my suspicion that we did not have one country of origin in common. Sure enough, B is 100% Portuguese (Catholic), and as we all know, my family is Iraqi (Jewish), Danish (Protestant), Welsh (Quaker), and Irish (Catholic – oh wait! Maybe that’s why B and I look so indistinguishable!)

Anyhow. I’m still not entirely sure why it bugged me so much. I suspect it had to do not only with the delivery but also with the fact that I’ve recently been dealing with a lot of people’s projections onto me, which leaves me feeling unseen and splattered on. Plus I had a liberating experience while visiting a Sephardic Jewish community recently: When I asserted that I look like your basic Ashkenazi, a Moroccan-Israeli guy sitting across from me disagreed, saying that I have distinctly Iraqi features. “Nobody ever tells me that,” I said. “That’s because they don’t have a point of reference for Iraqis, so they put you into the closest category with which they are familiar.”

That was really cool. I felt seen! Sort of. Not sure he detected the Danish/Welsh/Irish thing going on, but then again I don’t exactly have freckles and red hair.

In high school, my best friend and I looked identical. We even bought the same damn clothes, without shopping together. Everyone mixed us up, though it took a while for us each to figure out why people we’d never talked to were being super friendly to us. We had not one common line of ethnicity, so it was quite odd that we looked so much alike. But in that case, we actually did look alike. I saw it, she saw it, everyone saw it.

Still, I’m not sure why this thing bugged me so much. I must ponder some more…

2 Responses to “More homogenizing of my looks”

  1. gay riley
    May 23, 2013

    Hi Loolwa,
    Great post. We still live in a very color conscious, racially profiled society although I think the younger generations are not seeing color, race, gender preference etc. The world is getting better.
    I just got back from Iran and honestly I think I was the only anglo looking person in Tehran. Everytime I go I get empowered by that feeling even though in the middle east the culture is to stare. I now embrace that with love. My husband and I went to a restaurant for obgooshed (meat and potato stew). Our waiter was very nice. He pointed out that the five tables were 5 different nationalities, Chinese, Afghani, Turkish, Isreali, and Me!

    Another interesting thing about this trip. Before I left I had conversations with 2 young men. One Jewish and one Christian. They expressed the fear they had for the Islamic Republic and Moslems in general. How they heard of persicution of other religions in Iran.
    I told them I thought is was all political about oil and money, and power. Not to worry because Iranians and the majority of Moslems were just like them with all the same love and goals in life for peace and happiness. When I went to the old bazaar in Tehran I found that the majority of the Bazarris were Jewish! So I brought back a Hamsa for the Jewish boy and told him that there were many Jews in Iran. The Jews run the pharmaceutical industry there. All of my nieces and nephews love Jewish people. The told me they thought they were the talents, scholars, inventive, and creative people in the world. I stay in an apartment in Tehran accross from the Armenian (Christian) community that is one of the oldest communities in Tehran. Every Sunday the Church bells rang all day long. The church bells and the call to prayer were very comforting and spiritual to me.
    Well sister, I dont know if this even relates to your blog but I had the urge to tell you what was on my mind.
    I will be launching my new website soon. My intention is for it to be the launch for a new phase of my work.
    Sincerest wishes and continued success, Gay

  2. Loolwa Khazzoom
    Oct 19, 2013

    Thanks for your comment Gay. I would just ask you to be careful about using the phrase “Jews run the ____,” as that has been the call to bloodshed over the millenia. It’s a charged statement, with the implications (though not necessarily yours) that Jews have some sinister, controlling, supernatural power where we’re busy taking over the world, as per the Protocols of Zion. Lots more to say on topic, but that should suffice for now. :-)

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Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

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