Raising kids, one needs to be nurturing and constantly encourage them. To give them self-confidence, one should never label them with negative traits. “Keep repeating how good they are and most of them will try to fit the image.” The reverse is equally true. A child whose ego is crushed by being told he or she is no good, will often act accordingly. However, much the same seems to apply to a grown up.
For me it began with my children telling me that I was not white. The first suggestion had come after the birth of my first child as the nurse explained the bruise on my child’s backside as a “Mongolian mark” to signify she’d have a darker skin. Convinced that the woman must have dropped the baby and was just covering up, I dismissed the idea. When my daughter grew up “tanned”, I convinced myself that if she stayed out of the sun, she’d be white as a “Lilly.” But the baby must have heard the nurse because no sooner did she learn to talk than she was teaching me about being “Olive Skinned!” It took a few decades to convince the proud “Arian” in me, though I still see myself as a white person who’s not-so-white.
The brainwash didn’t stop there. Next they were telling me I have an accent. What accent? I studied English at a young age and had spoken it long before my kids did. Now the same kid whom I taught to talk tells me I have an accent? I told her to shut up. But when the telemarketers, the answering machines and store clerks failed to understand what I said, I began to wonder. Now I’m so influenced that I not only talk with an accent, sometimes I even think with one.
While most influences go back to a young age, I am constantly persuaded even at this old age. Take for example this terrorist business. Although we yet have to see an Iranian terrorist outside of Iran, the profile is hammered into our heads for so many years that I’m finally convinced of my own terrorism. All I needed was a place of birth, an unpronounceable name, a darker skin, an accent, and voila!
The first hint of my dangerous nature came from the airport security where they found my weapon of mass destruction. It was a bottle of nail polish remover, which I carried in my bag for fear it might spill in the suitcase. I was pulled aside, questioned, cross-examined and finally the woman confiscated the bottle. I thought maybe my “place of birth” had alarmed them, or perhaps Acetone was considered an explosive, but having noticed her glittering nail polish, I could not dismiss the possibility that the entire incident stemmed from a desperate need.
The second incident was at the Canadian border, where a man went through my purse, read each and every scrap of paper and added up my collection of shopping receipts in search of something suspicious. While I tried to figure out how to fit the mound of trash back in the bag, to my horror, he began searching the tightly packed suitcase I had managed to close by sitting on it. He finally picked up the only designer suit I ever owned. “Where did you buy this?”
“Chicago,” I said.
His smirk became much broader. “Sure you did!”
Feeling offended, I told him I was an honest woman and that in fact most Iranians are. But that only gave him a chuckle.
“Ha! My colleagues in New York would beg to differ!”
I don’t mind being off-white, nor is it important to repeat myself to telemarketers, but it’s so darn scary to know I’m such a threat to national security. They should see how I check and re-check myself before a flight. I mean why would I carry a lotion? Who needs a safety pin? And couldn’t one hijack a plane with a nail file?
At the airport, I remove my watch, shoes, and hairpins, but then what have I hidden from myself that would cause the x-ray machine to go berserk? Why is it that at customs, my American born children go in one line and I’m ushered to another? Why is it that their “random pick” invariably picks ME to be checked? Where’s my green light? Do those smart security people know something I don’t know?
Indeed, power of suggestion does wonders, but I refuse to be a victim. Starting today, I am determined to do what Al Franken used to do. I will look in the mirror and tell myself, “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”
The repetition made a senator out of that comedian; I can just imagine what it will do for a writer!
Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies.