Wafa Unus, Owner and Publisher –
It was just a clock. He was just a kid. The school overreacted. The police were out of line. He was discriminated against and treated unjustly. While all of these narratives are certainly valid, there seems to be one glaring outlier.
To allow a child to take a homemade clock into a public school, to be unaware of what a child is taking to school, or not make clear what is appropriate to take to school, independent of a science fair or project day, in light of two decades of heightened school violence, seems, at the very least, a foolish action. The decision to promote the encouraging of all students to do as they please regardless of the consequences, at a subsequent press conference following the incident, was certainly a dangerous one.
While Ahmed did receive ample and outstanding support that propelled him into national, and international spotlight, his experience is not, and likely will not be, the norm.
Consider, if Ahmed were three years older, perhaps with a little stubble on his face, a bigger build and lower grades. Still, he likes to build things. It’s a singular interest that distracts him from limited social skills or the fact that he doesn’t have a lot of friends in school. So, he creates something great and brings it in to show a favorite teacher whose class he feels comfortable in. He feels empowered and intelligent. It’s a smaller town, with fewer Muslim kids. He’s got his favorite black T-shirt on. Nothing that distinguishes him but it’s comfortable. He has decidedly less viral propensity and a little less visual appeal.
It’s possible the handcuffs would not have come off so quickly and the impact on his future could have been far more severe.
The media narrative could have been far different and so too would the response. Over the past two decades, this has been a reality. For all the kids who were profiled, discriminated against, arrested, charged, suspended or worse, the consequences were not invitations to the White House and tweets by billionaires. Even in Ahmed’s case, these tweets were not entirely focused around issues of discrimination and profiling but on the encouraging of scientific ingenuity.
Media narratives change, and they change quickly. Attention by the media does not ensure long-term beneficial discourse about deeply rooted and systematic failures. In fact, if often distracts and discourages it. We have seen this time and time again.
True progress can be made only when the community willingly and actively establishes a critical and intellectual discussion on the actions, on all levels, that lead to potentially damaging outcomes, particularly when a child’s future is on the line.
It is certainly important to address failures of the school system and the police in Ahmed’s case, but it is intriguing that the community might fail to address the issue of understanding and intelligently navigating one’s environment based on the current climate. Post 9/11 discourse aside, sending a child to school with anything other than what is generally allowed (many kids today have limitations on what images can appear on T-shirts) is irresponsible.
No, this is not the advocating of self-censorship. It is the advocating of being smarter and less ignorant of the realities of the world. If we are to promote intelligence and ingenuity, we must promote it in all areas of life, including in the understanding that minority kids are different. They may be profiled. Bringing clocks that look like what Ahmed brought into school will draw attention because not everyone knows what a homemade clock looks like, or what components must be present for something to act as a bomb. If we wish to rise above actions of ignorance, we too must learn to not act ignorantly.
Decades of discrimination will not disappear. Being outraged that people “think this way in 2015” will not stop people from acting unjustly. The world may age at the same rate but that certainly does not mean it progresses in the same ways, at the same time.
Examples like this are not simply to be lauded for their positive outcomes but to be intelligently interrogated so as to address the often unnerving realities they uncover as well. Sometimes, those unnerving realities are an outcome of our own poor decisions. After all, it is a staple in our faith to look first at the actions of ourselves and then at the actions of others.
As the headlines fade, the television news moves on and the next hashtag gains popularity, as all inevitably will in the coming days, it is my sincere hope that our community takes the opportunity to engage in meaningful, intelligent discourse that facilitates a greater understanding of how our actions, intelligence and unique experiences can empower us to make smarter, better and more informed decisions that can truly address these systemic failures in a way that produces meaningful long-term change.
We must be smarter.