For the better half of a decade, friends have repeatedly said to me, "Arab" is the new "Black."
I'm not sure there is much value in equating such discrimination, but as an Arab-American, there is no denying that my name, heritage, and physical appearance -- especially when rocking some facial scruff -- has become a subject of discrimination and controversy, ridicule and racism.
But my name is Ahmed, and I'm not a terrorist. However, since 9/11, I have endured many terrorist jokes, countless racial slurs and even had a police officer in Boston enter my house without a warrant, arrest me and call me a "Sandnigger" as he cuffed me, for reasons that were never fully made clear to me, or the judge who presided over our arraignment. The charge of "Keeper of a Disorderly Home" was eventually dropped.
Since 9/11, terrorism and the fear it has conjured has weighed heavily on the American consciousness. Both the media and Bush administration's infamous "Us versus Them" construct heightened the hype and hysteria that swept the nation and eventually institutionalized the humiliation in the humor of this viral ventriloquist act.
Over the years, shameful experiences in airport lines, at the weddings of friends and even in the workplace, have given me a small taste of the bigotry that blacks have endured for decades upon decades.
One last anecdote: In 2006, an HR representative at one of America's leading media companies responded to my question of whether I could drop off my paperwork on her desk after my shift on day two of my new job by staring me straight in the face and saying in all seriousness, "How do I know you are not going to leave a bomb under my desk?", ruining my first week at the job and leaving such a bad taste in my mouth that within 6 months I left the company.
But this isn't about me, Arabs or her offensive question, it's about the need for us to ruminate on racism.
We may have elected Barack, our first black president, but racism and bigotry is still very much alive in America and the police are a big part of the problem.
In 2007, while I was working at PBS's Wide Angle, the New York Police Department released a report that described the process and characteristics of "candidates" that become "jihadi fighters."
My boss had put it on my desk with a note alluding to the ridiculous nature of the report.
It said that terrorist candidates "speak multiple languages, including three predominant Western languages: German, French and English" -- all of which I happen to speak -- oh, and Arabic.
They were anywhere from fifteen to thirty-five years old - Check.
At an age where they often are seeking to identify who they really are while trying to find the "meaning of life" - Check.
From a middle class family and students appear to provide the most fertile ground
for the seeds of radicalization - Check.
The report claimed its aim is "to assist policymakers and law enforcement officials by providing a thorough understanding of the kind of "threat" we face domestically."
Put together by senior analysts within the NYPD Intelligence Division, the 99-page report described "the candidate" as someone who is indoctrinated in cafes, cab driver hangouts, flop houses, prisons, student associations, NGOs, hookah bars, butcher shops and bookstores" -- yes, Barnes & Nobles.
The report doesn't commit to any statistical or specific conclusions, instead it explicitly claims the candidates "look, act, talk and walk like everyone around them."
In 2007, as an aspiring journalist, reading this report, it was clear to me this would only further isolate me and million of young Arabs or Muslim men living in America who fit this generalized "profile" of a threat.
But it is the same sort of perceived "threat" that George Zimmerman, half-latino himself, acted on to kill 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Reports on Twitter suggest anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 people joined the Million Hoodie March yesterday in Union Square to demand justice for the un-armed Travyon Martin
While the mainstream media put the number at "hundreds," having spent much of the evening there, the number is probably somewhere smack dab in the middle.
As I watched the NYPD offices prevent the marchers from spilling into the streets, I was reminded of the 2007 report and the feelings of frustration flooded through me.
I was standing just two feet away from Travyon's family as they were ushered down 14th Street to the black SUV waiting for them. Their body-language read as a mix of determination to fight for justice and dissapointment for a justice system that had failed them.
The mood quickly shifted from demands of dignity and justice for the Martin family to anti-police. At least one man was arrested.
Although the protest remained largely non-violent, I did witness several scuffles including a man being thrown to the street and one of the police officers who pushed a woman who then bumped into me got a little bit nasty (that I witnessed).
As I walked home, a question burned in my mind: "If Zimmerman were black and had killed a white kid, wouldn't he have been locked up in jail immediately?"
I've curated photos, videos and online commentary, capturing the #MillionHoodieMarch below.
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