"Growing up in America has been such a blessing. It doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions -- but here, we're all one."
-Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha
Studying human rights and reading about the most violent acts of discrimination in our world's history on a regular basis has had its way in desensitizing me. Being a part of an ethnic minority that my country systematically discriminates against has had its way of desensitizing me. You get tired of the nervous feeling you get when the TSA agent sees "Pakistan" stamped as the country of origin on your parents' passports. You get tired of hearing about the harassment, the profiling -- the now normalized systematic racism. You get tired of hearing about the violence.
Yet, despite my desensitization, I was overwhelmingly sickened to read about the shootings that took place last month in North Carolina. Too sickened, too frustrated to attend the vigil my university held the night after the crime. I did not want to hear the names of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife Yusor and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha, for these are no longer the names of students. They are the names of victims, identities of those whose lives were stolen from them by unwarranted hate and malice.
I was even more sickened to realize how easy it was to avoid such information. I was disgusted to find my Facebook newsfeed equal parts #ChapelHillShooting and anticipation for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. I put my research skills to real use to find out about the Indian man who was left paralyzed after an unnecessarily brutal police attack in Alabama, the arson of a Texas mosque, the vandalism of an Islamic school in Rhode Island and the assault of a Muslim family outside a Michigan supermarket. It was a quick, but sad realization that my Muslim and other minority friends were the only ones talking about these issues, the only ones who cared enough to read more than just the initial, sensationalist headline about the Chapel Hill shooting.
Many have pointed out that if the identities had been the other way around -- if the shooter had been Muslim and the students non-Muslim -- terrorist conspiracy theories would be circulating instead of rumors of a parking dispute. It would not have taken twelve hours for the names to reach the press. If the identities had been switched, there would have been no delay in reporting the news. Most importantly, it would not have taken as long for people to care about the innocence of the lives that were taken. What were they waiting for? To make sure the shooter was not a hero? To make sure he had not nobly killed terrorists? Yes, it mattered that they were Muslim, but only to the extent of the leeway it gave them in reporting the story. They would not want to victimize terrorists, after all.
But in this narrative of bloodshed and xenophobia, Craig Steven Hicks is the terrorist.
As in the cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, these were hardly the first hate crimes of their nature. Somehow, even after the suffering that washes over our communities, we never pause to see these isolated incidents as part of a larger narrative. They are part of an ongoing trend of violence against the minority followed by fear and feeble attempts at obedience, compliance and self-suppression on the part of the minority. This cycle is a dangerous habit that continues to be perpetuated by both parties. By hiding behind the clouds of conformity we fail to shed light on the truth. By remaining silent, we too are feeding into the ignorance. We are allowing the stereotypes to further box us into narrow and misrepresented identities by unintentionally and involuntarily affirming them.
It's a bigger issue than police brutality or Islamophobia. It's an issue of prejudice against those who are different from us. It's a prejudice that blinds us, one that pushes us to see other humans as subhuman, subpar, a subspecies not worthy of the same rights and respects as the ones we hold simply due to a discrepancy in identity. It's an issue of holding that prejudice. It's an issue of acting on that prejudice. It's perpetuating hate. It's an issue of inciting terror in the lives of the individuals whose identities are already targeted.
We talk about it for the five hours during which it is trending, but then something else comes up and we fail to take the time to think about what has happened and why. The only people who stay on the topic long enough are the victims, the people who care because they have to care, because incidents like these put their lives and freedoms at risk. The people whose lives are at risk. Everyone is guilty of this phenomenon. We never stop. We never get to the part in the news story where they explain the trend -- often that part of the story is missing. These are not just stories of one genre, they are chapters of the same narrative.
But we, as minorities also play an active role in this narrative. We, as minorities, have the opportunity to shatter stereotypes by simply proving them wrong. We should not have to hide from or deny our identities out of fear of losing our rights or our lives.
We, as minorities, need to stop grouping ourselves, stop separating our individual selves from the negative stigmas instead of fighting them. We, as a society, need to stop grouping others into categories. We need to stop reinforcing our own sense of "we" to fight the enemy "them." We need to stop the violence. "We" needs to become an encompassing term for our society.
The enigma of our supposed democracy is that it perpetuates the idea that taking a life can be justified if it means defending that sacred "democracy." Why are we not fighting for the right to life the way we fought for the right to free speech after the attack on Charlie Hebdo? Is the voice of the majority really worth more than the lives of the minority?
No one should have to prove that he or she is human, no one should have to justify that his or her beliefs make him or her worthy of having a life. Will we go through this with every minority that makes up our society? How many more times do we have to be united over death to realize the value of life? How many martyrs do we need to even begin to consider the possibility that there is an underlying issue within our society as a whole? How many minorities have to prove that they are American enough to be allowed to breathe the same air as their fellow citizens?
It is 2015 -- almost 240 years after the establishment of our free and equal democracy -- why are we still trying to grasp the concept that people who look or act different from us are just as much of humans as we are? I'm beating on a wall, knowing it will not turn into a door, but hoping at least for a window -- a window into a future with some sense of peace and unity.
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