By Ashanka Kumari
Earlier this week, Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old ninth grader from Texas, was arrested after his English teacher thought his homemade clock was a bomb. While those involved in the arrest might claim Mohamed’s religious beliefs and position as a Muslim boy were not reasons for suspicion, the teacher and school’s initial responses point to this incident as that within the ongoing Islamophobia in our country.
If Ahmed Mohamed had been a white boy named John Smith, for instance, I suspect the teacher would not have been so quick as to dub the homemade clock a bomb. Further, if the teacher truly thought the clock were a bomb, I suspect the school would have taken steps towards a lockdown to protect other students. Instead, Ahmed was arrested and it becomes clear that this incident is another that continues the seemingly endless battle with racism we face as a country.
Today, as a teacher as well as a student, I am terrified by the kinds of similar ideologies my students might bring with them because of my name and race.
Beyond these issues, Ahmed Mohamed’s story represents one many children like him continue to deal with on a daily basis. As a minority student, I know first-hand how moments likes these often cause children with names like Ahmed’s and mine to be silenced, to fear going to school, to hate participating in the American education system.
I remember distinctly how isolated I felt as a fifth-grade student right after 9/11.
I remember the terror I felt when I heard customers at my dad’s business call him a terrorist repeatedly because of his name and race. I worried my teachers and other students thought similarly about me at school, especially when I found it hard to make friends during the time. Each day I begged my dad to quit his job and stay home. I feared for his life as well as the lives of the rest of my family. Though he never quit his job, repeated break-ins including one during which my mother was physically injured showed me the kind of hate people are capable of based on their uneducated assumptions of another race.
Today, as a teacher as well as a student, I am terrified by the kinds of similar ideologies my students might bring with them because of my name and race. While I imagine Ahmed’s parents will take actions against the school and those involved, this work cannot stand alone. Serious discussions must take place to educate faculty and staff at this school and all schools about difference.
When students are accused of actions based on their name and/or race, they stick with them forever. Ahmed appears to be moving forward fine after his arrest based on interviews and media coverage, but I am certain he will unfortunately forever remember how his school responded to the time he wanted to share a clock he made because he was genuinely interested in engineering. #IStandwithAhmed
Ashanka Kumari is a Ph.D student at the University of Louisville.
Cover Photo Credit: KXAS-TV/ Screenshot