Got an extension for that unfinished thesis paper so I’m working on it at this Starbucks in Avon. Haven’t even been here for 30 minutes, and I hear someone next to me tell their significant other as they get up to leave, “If you see something, say something?” Immediately my ears perk up and my heart sinks.
Whether that was for me or not, the fact is, that phrase is so traumatizing. Every day on the train in NYC for the past few years, every time that announcement came on, I’ve tried telling myself I won’t let it get to me. Yet, every time the announcement was made over the train speakers, I had to fight myself not to look around to check if people were looking at me. Because, of course, although the warning in that statement was meant for all criminals and wrong doers, it was specifically linked to criminals carrying “suspicious packages” aka potential bomb threats aka acts of terrorism aka crimes linked to an Islamic face (truthfully or not).
And every time that announcement is made I have to remind myself I am not guilty. My purse is not a suspicious package. My backpack, no matter how huge it looks when I’m traveling between states, is not a suspicious package. I wanna let he people on the train car know that its not, just in case, because I know what they must be thinking. Before I can even convince others, I have to convince myself that the statement was not about me so I don’t need to worry. I struggle not to look up or around at the people in my train car while trying to act unnaturally casual, like I don’t even care this announcement is happening, wishing there were headphones in my ears to block out those words. “If you see something, say something.” Sometimes, I imagine everybody in the train car must turn into some zombie-like AI humanoids at the end of the announcement, with their eyes suddenly red, looking for the nearest visibly Muslim person, a little pause, and then back to what they were doing.
On most days, I give in. I look up and mentally hold my breath. But I usually find that everyone is just going about their business. I breath a mental sigh of relief. “If you see something, say something.” And with a statistically insignificant crime rate among Muslims who commit “acts of terror”, I don’t expect regular community vigilantism because of these announcements. What I am really hearing subconsciously is “If you see a Muslim, be afraid”, “If you see you a Muslim, they are different.” You know how people clutch their purses and walk on a different side of the street when they see a black person in an “unsafe” neighborhood? Its like being on the other end of that stick.
God, I hate those words. I don’t know if the man sitting next to me in Starbucks was referring to me or not when he said those words to his wife. Was he asking her whether to report something like a Muslim appearing in their perfect, shiny, white town? I hear how ridiculous that sounds, no doubt. And I have every right to be sitting here. But those words are like a scar that hasn’t even begun to heal.