I'm not sure it's possible, but in case you missed it, a 14 year old high school student was arrested in Texas today. His crime? Making a clock. Well, making a clock and being brown and having the name Ahmed Mohamed. Because when you are brown and are named Ahmed Mohamed, you don't make clocks. Apparently, you make bombs. At least that's what the teachers, administrators, and police of Irving, TX thought.
I won't rehash the facts of the case here. The link below and countless other internet stories are doing that. But I feel like I need to stand up and say something about this.
I have a son that's 14. His greatest joy in life is to solder, and make lights light up, and motors turn, and to study quirky science facts. Dinner time discussions often jump from string theory, to the odd thermal properties of water, to what it would mean for your cognitive capacity if you were shrunk down to the size of an ant. He's 14 and in love with the world, a world so vast and grand that most people walking around worrying about football scores or what's on sale at the mall don't even realize exists.
He wants to share these ideas. If he built a cool digital clock, I have no doubt that he'd take it to school to talk about it with anyone interested, and probably a few not interested too. Reactions would range from a bemused smile, to high fives and attaboys. But he wouldn't be arrested. Because his name is Ben, not Ahmed. Because his skin is white and his eyes are gray.
And somewhere in Texas, there's a dad like me whose heart is broken, because he came here seeking liberty and justice for all. And what he got was a brilliant, beautiful boy in handcuffs.
So, yeah, #IStandWithAhmed
Now if you look around the internet, you'll see many who share my outrage. But it seems to be taking the form of "Can you believe how racist Texas is?" Or perhaps "how could we hire teachers and administrators like this? Fire them all!"
Let me assure you, racism isn't confined to Texas, or the South, or even to bad people. I'd be surprised if any of those teachers or cops got up this morning and said, "hey, how can I harass a Muslim kid?" Certainly dozens of them didn't wake up and say that. Yet that's what happened.
So what escalated this? A teacher saw something, and said something. After 9/11, and Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and too many other countless stories of carnage in the public space, somebody said something. After a relentless bombarding with media messages, after seeing real tragedies unfold day after day in the news, a teacher spoke up. A teacher that was, no doubt, deeply concerned for the other students of the school.
Would a teacher have spoken up if my fair-skinned Ben brought a clock? I doubt it. Ben has privilege.
But have we all conditioned those teachers and administrators and cops to be ready to pounce on shadows? You bet we have. Living life in code orange, continually awash in the message that the Other is out there waiting to harm you, is the new normal. And thanks to life in a country where it's easier to get a gun than psychiatric care, many times the threat is all too real. It's this toxic mix of racism and paranoia that we've created that set this story in motion, and pushed it from the standard Code Orange into Code Red. This is our new American reality. This is life in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Firing racist school officials is only a Band-Aid. Some heads will roll, and Ahmed will probably get to meet the President. And we'll fell like we've accomplished something. But honestly, the same forces that set this story in motion will still be in place. We all created this situation. Look in the mirror, America. The monster looking back is us, and we've created our own hell.
There have been terrorist attacks in other places. But we're really something special. It isn't like this in Britain. It isn't like this in Spain. Or Canada. Or anyplace else, really.
Please, I urge you, Stand with Ahmed. But also, look at the rest of the system we've built as a nation. What can we do to de-escalate violence, to reduce paranoia, and live with good sense and respect? What can we do to back the system back down to code green? Code respect? Code love?