This shhh has got to stop (rant)

So, I went to the doctor on Friday after finally talking myself into it. I don’t hate going to the doctor like some people but it was such a nice day that I wanted to get out and enjoy it. I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen…

 From the moment I stepped in the doctor’s office the staff started treating me like I just arrived from another country. First, there was the receptionist who spoke to me in slow English (complete with the gestures.) It never seemed to occur to her that I was speaking to her in clear English- no accent. (Okay, maybe a Caribbean lilt on certain words). The same thing happened when I sat down with the nurse who takes your weight, blood pressure etc. *sigh* Maybe because it was such a beautiful day I told myself I’d let it slide. Nothing was going to interrupt my good mood.

But here is the ultimate incident:  I was having a conversation with the doctor about my health and lifestyle. She asked my age. I told her. Then she busts out and asks, “Is that your known age?” HUH?  With a look of confusion on my face I said, “I don’t understand what you mean.” Apparently, some people from Somalia do not know their given age, they can only estimate it. According to the doctor, they may have been born in a rural area and there are no birth certificates or birth dates recorded for people.

If you know me and then you know how irritated I am with people assuming my ethnicity based on me wearing the hijab. I told her I am not Somali or whatever else she had in mind. You’d think that would be it, case closed. *sigh* She kept pushing though.  She wanted to know where my family was from then. I was thinking, what does this have to do with my health? I politely told her I am African-American (the Jamaican heritage would’ve really confused the situation, lol.) She says, “Ohhhh, so you’re a Minnesotan then.” Again, I could not let that one go. I told her I am a Chicagoan. Do you know what she said? “Oh, you’re an immigrant from Chicago!” UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! When I told my mother the story she said I should’ve told the doctor that my people were “reluctant immigrants” and when the doctor asked what I meant by that I should’ve told her that my people were brought here in chains from Africa and forced to work on plantations. (You wonder where I get my sassiness from).

Seriously, this shhh has got to stop!!! People- professionals in a medical setting- cannot go around making assumptions about others based on the way they look or how they’re dressed. I don’t care if most of the women who have on headscarves like me are from Somalia. What’s so wrong with asking before making an assumption? That is all I want. Ask first, don’t assume. If you are reading this and thinking, what’s so wrong with a couple people assuming you’re from another country? Why are you so angry about it? It’s not that big of a deal.  I am at my wits end because this happens to me E-V-E-R-Y  S-I-N-G-L-E  D-A-Y. Maybe it wouldn’t be so annoying and so very frustrating if people weren’t certain about it. To me, their assumption is reflective of a reductionist, binary type of thinking that seeks to fit complicated human beings into neat categories; in this case, Muslim= Somali (since they are the majority Muslim population in the Twin Cities.) If someone is Muslim but not Somali then the next question is usually, well, how can you be Muslim? UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!


11 responses to “This shhh has got to stop (rant)

  1. Salaam sis, I feel with you in your frustration. Im african american and german, born in this country and people automatically assume Im from somewhere else. Ive been Sudanese, Morrocan, Bengali, and Egyptian according to others. It’s like if your african american, there’s no way for you to be Muslim. When they find out that your Black, people are so shocked, and I find this a lot with other Muslims. I guess people are still stuck with that mentality that all Muslims are either Arab, Indian, or African.

  2. “Is that your known age?” HUH?

    O.k. I’m going to be frank and some people are going to be upset but I don’t care. In my Somalian community, its common knowledge that some of us have changed our real “birth age”, and I know every Somalian knows at least one person that has done this. This has been done for several reasons, for example my cousins had their age changed by there parents because they wanted their children to start school to at the beginners’ level instead of being overwhelmed at a higher level. Since the school system back in Africa at a poor public school is not as advanced. So if the child should be in grade 10 then they change the age so the child is placed in grade 8 instead. Some believe this will help the child adjust to the level and consequentially they would progress as close to normal (whatever that means). Other reasons this is done is for legal purposes, some fear that if they reveal their child is not a minor but 18 years and older then they have to file i.e. immigration papers as an adult and there’s a higher chance they might be denied. But most people do this for school, so the child doesn’t miss out on basic education which might give them a better chance at higher education.

    But some people have taken this to an extreme, changing the age over 5 years (usually the maximum is a 2-3 year difference). Sorry I’m rambling, but what I’m trying to say is that sometimes elders SAY they don’t know their “real age” because they don’t know if age is important information for the doctor in a particular case and they don’t want to get caught lying but at the same time they want the doctor to understand the possibility that this might be wrong if it’s important for their health.

    (Lol), it’s very rare that a Somalian might not know their real age because before the 1950’s we used poetry and stories to identify the years, we have a very strong *oral history*. For example, my dad (also born in a rural area) would be born in the year of the great flood (1945) or the year of the grasshoppers etc. We do know but some of us are afraid! Actually, culturally as a nomadic people we’re very secretive about our age, clan, tribe, and name.

    A lot of other types of immigrants from developing countries (Ethiopians, Sudanese etc) change the age as well, besides the institutions are not very certified, corruption is very high you can forge anything you like.

    I’m sorry this happened to you; people have also made assumptions (usually low expectations) about me and sometimes they hurt very much. I would inform them there are other people who Muslims not just a specific ethnic group. But you probably already do this on a daily basis. Although they don’t want to see past their biases of you, try to see past there’s.

  3. My cousin who’s Somalian also had a negative experience at the doctor’s office in Minnesota. Automatically, the doctor (a white male) asked her “when was the last time you did an HIV/AIDS test?” She didn’t even have a chance to tell him why she was in the office, which was for migraines. He already made an assumption about her as a black woman to be extremely likely to such and such (fill in whatever stereotypes). It’s arrogant, and inconsiderate, besides one should never believe at face value.

  4. Salaam Alaikum,

    Aaargh! I feel your frustration. Before now, I’ve had to say to a doctor “That’s not actually a medical question is it?” When they’ve gotten all convert quizzing happy. Then there was the gynaecologist who decided to ask about my conversion when I was actually in the stirrups!

    Note to the general public: If you’re not sure how to treat us, try treating us like normal people, that usually works best.

  5. Asalaam Alaikum,

    I am a Caucasian women, german and french heritage. And I always get asked “well, why are you Muslim?” Sometimes even by Muslims! It is very frustrating. It is like I must justify my decision to people all the time. Although as of late I say “it was my choice” and leave it at that. I would never ask someone “well why are you (insert miscellaneous religion here)?” But because I wear hijab evidently complete strangers feel okay about asking me. ARG….

    It really does need to stop.


  6. Salaams sis! I had to change doctor because he assumed because my husband was Muslim and foreign he was the reason for my melancholy. Ummm I had just had MAJOR surgery and wasn’t feeling tip top. smh

  7. As salaamu alaikum.

    What is the problem here girl? Just tell them your ancestors was brought here from Africa on the slave ships. One thing I know that they don’t want to think about and hear is “African slave ships” you should say it, then watch their facial expression. I love the “oh, damn! I don’t feel like hearing this today.

    Secondly, if they ask you “how you can be Muslim” simply say you was born Muslim; because Allah(swt) said we were all “born Muslim” so you wouldn’t be lying. Even if you were not raised Muslim, you was still born Muslim. Get it! Problem solved.

    Usually for me, once I mentioned slave ships the other questions are never ask.

    Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullah wa barakutu

  8. Welcome to my world! I get that question all the time, and you’re right,there are some days when you just don’t wanna deal with it!!! grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  9. hmmm…sounds like being somali might be a good thing if you can pass yourself off as younger or older than you are on a whim (LOL).

  10. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    “An immigrant from Chicago”? Did she mean someone who immigrated, lived in Chicago and then moved onto wherever you are now, or did she mean just an out-of-state person?

    A few years ago, in the general election in Germany, the then sitting Chancellor (Prime Minister, their presidency being a bit like the one in Israel, i.e. a ceremonial head of state) had a poster up in Berlin in which he depicted the conservative Bavarian opponent in leather trousers (a stereotype of southern attire), with the slogan “Yes to immigration, with one exception”.

  11. Sis, I know you are frustrated and I don’t mean to make it worse, but I am really really dying laughing here. I mean cracking up hard. It’s your fault for writing so well….

    “immigrant from Chicago”

    How does it feel to be an Expatriate?

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