One-on-One with A Muslim-American Teen

     Only a few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about Islamic culture and the religion itself, describing my opinions on discrimination and stereotypes against Muslims. To gain a personal perspective on how Muslim-Americans react to racism, I asked the following questions to one of my best friends to gain a deeper understanding on what it is to be like to be a Muslim-American teenager in today’s day and age.

Q: Have you ever been the victim of outright discrimination because of your religion? If so, what is the most significant incident you can remember?

A: I have never been bullied or discriminated against on a consistent basis for being a Muslim. I certainly have had derogatory comments and semi-offensive jokes thrown my way, but none affected me that much. I am usually good with letting people know when they need to stop, and so far it hasn’t come to that. As far as incidents go, one time in sixth grade I skipped school because of Eid. The next day I came back, people asked me where I was. I responded and told them, but for some reason I felt slightly uncomfortable, as if telling them my religion would make them treat me differently. They did not though, many were surprised however considering my complexion would make me a Hindu, but they learned and moved on.

 

Q: When in your life did you begin to notice that certain people held biases against you because of what you or believe?

A:I think it was high school when I realized that some people did have biases against people of other skin color, complexion and religion. Maybe it was because there were so many people from different cultures in one environment, or because I just never noticed until then.

 

Q:What do you feel is the most negative stereotype surrounding Muslims in America today?

A:The list is long, from women’s rights, to terrorism and the Arabic language. But if I had to choose one, it’d probably be that Islam, at heart, is not a violent religion. In media the word Islam often goes hand in hand with “terrorist” or “radical” and that’s not how it should be. The word “Islam” comes from the root “salam” which means peace. People should realize that Muslims aren’t bad people and their religion does not teach them to hurt anyone. “Muslim” terrorists aren’t considered Islamic by any Muslims.

 

Q:Do you think that the next generation will be more tolerant and accepting and that some of the biases regarding Muslim people will go away in time?

A:I honestly don’t know. The fear of Muslims and some of the beliefs against them run strong in some people. I certainly hope that people forget about anti-Islamic beliefs and focus on real problems but I am unsure.

 

Q:What is your opinion about the current political situation, especially regarding Donald Trump?

A:These political campaigns this year are quite unique, if that’s how one should put it. It seems that all courtesy and professionalism, especially on the republican side had gone down in the dumps. D(onald) Trumps is an unqualified and arrogant nominee, and I can say for a lot of people that we are amazed at how far he’s made it after everything he has said.

Q:If there is one thing you could tell any racist in America right now about Islam and its beliefs, what would it be?

A:Please open your eyes, put away all biases and look around. America is, and always had been,a country accepting of different cultures, beliefs, and ideologies. That’s one of the reasons why my parent moved here. Muslims are not bad people, they are ordinary citizens just trying to do their jobs like everyone else.

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The Silent Elephant in the Room: Black Rights

      This entry had to be done as soon as possible. The impact of black culture on this nation is one of the most undeniable truths we know today, and the way that African-American rights are handled today is simply unacceptable.

    From the inception of the Atlantic slave trade that led to the mass movement of indigenous Africans to America, African  culture has been passed down, growing and developing with each successive generations’ struggle. In the 1800’s it was emancipation,  and in the 1900’s it was segregation. Now, the generation defining struggle for African-Americans is appropriation, the thievery and the mockery of the essence of black culture.

     As I have said before, appropriation is the usage of another culture without recognizing its significance or the social issues surrounding that culture. As of right now, black culture has consistently been the most appropriated and misused culture today. From the popularity of hip-hop to the fashion styles dominating our stores, we as a nation have adopted many aspects of American culture without even realizing it. And although this in itself is not a problem, everyday occurrences put the African-American community in danger because of several incidences of police brutality that have skyrocketed in the past few years.

 Perhaps one of the most memorable of these incidents is that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He was shot 12 times by the police after a confrontation with an officer, making our nation collectively question how our police force treats African-Americans. This fire was fueled by several deaths of African-Americans in police custody, such as Sandra Bland, whose death ruled as a suicide was put into question.

      The response to these incidents has no doubt been one of rage and anger, but even more than that, people’s reactions to these killings have been those of frustration. After all, these deaths could have been anybody in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Social media, celebrities, and Hollywood have all decided to promote acceptance and to try and create an atmosphere of safety. One popular picture that circulated online showed black people putting their hands up in a mock surrender to draw attention to police and brutality. Celebrities have made moves to draw attention to black rights, by making music  that empowers African-Americans like Beyoncé with her new song “Formation.”

     Unfortunately, there are always selfish people who use these tragedies and real issues to push their own agenda online, completely missing the main idea behind these movements. Seen in the trolls in twitter who decide to make #BlackLivesMatter into #AllLivesMatter, the mockery of these issues is completely unacceptable. Even though the usage of certain hairstyles (Bantu knots, braids, cornrows) may seem trivial, its significance is major, when you consider that the same people who use these aspects of black culture as just another “fashion trend” are the same people trivializing African-American issues.

     If any good at all has come out of the new movement for equality going on now, it is that social issues have now become an open discussion rather than a muted whisper lurking in the back of our minds. Additionally, it has created a culture of young African-Americans who have increasingly become proud of their ethnicity, embracing the aspects about themselves that makes them different rather than try and blend in to conventional American ideals. Rather than looking at the present, the future, which holds endless opportunities for positive change, seems to have a light at the end of these dark times. Our new generation, with more knowledge and acceptance, is sure to embrace all people for their humanity and not just discriminate by the color of their skin.

Entrada : Cultura Latinamericano

     This title happens to be in the second most widely spoken language in the world, spoken by approximately 430 million people. Mexicans happen to be a small fraction of the people who speak this language, and in just a few weeks, will be celebrating Cinco De Mayo to celebrate a victory over the French in 1862. Although this holiday is regional to Mexico, many Latin-Americans celebrate it to show their pride for their heritage. In fact, Latin-American culture celebrates several regional holidays that carry deep meanings not often realized by the average American.

     For example, La Dia De Los Muertos, a holiday celebrating deceased ancestors, is often denied its respect and its customary practices are routinely appropriated, like the painting of people’s faces to represent deceased ancestors used as a trendy style of fashion accessorizing. This, however, pales to many of the other ways that Western Culture has trodden over Latin-American culture and people in America. Seen commonly in television programs and movies, Latin-American characters are often portrayed to have thick accents and to perpetuate common stereotypes that people have of Latin-Americans. Gloria Pritchett, portrayed by Sofia Vergara in the hit television program “Modern Family,” is a key example of this. Even though she is shown to be an independent woman who can easily hold her own in the family and in other parts of her life, the fact that she is a Latina woman has become a routine running joke in the show. Her dozens of relatives and squabbles with her mother and sister help in perpetuating the stereotype that Latina women are catty and loud.

     Don’t get me wrong, Modern Family is a great show and has done a lot for the LGBTQ community, women, and to break down taboos that exist in society (older men marrying younger women). However, their screenwriting of Gloria, aptly and perfectly portrayed by Vergara, shows a weak reliance on racial humor for a laugh or two. And just to be fair, they are definitely not the only ones who are guilty of this. Hollywood, in its entirety, has generally been less receptive to Latin-American actors, making it harder for directors and actors of Latino descent to make it in the industry, unless they are from other backgrounds as well, making their ethnicities harder to identify.

America’s overall distaste for Latinos can clearly be seen through the masses rallying behind Donald Trump, a candidate who has openly voiced the idea of building a wall between the American-Mexican border because he believes that Mexicans bring drugs, rape, and crime. In fact, immigration in general has been a hot topic for many politicians, who are divided whether or not Mexican immigrants should be allowed into America. This is especially ironic, considering Mexicans and other Latinos have been coming to America, legally or not, to work in large plantations in the entire 20th century. Many times, employers would not even turn in illegal immigrants because they were used as a source of cheap labor. Quite ironic, considering that the main argument against immigration today is that these immigrants are taking away from “American jobs”.

To conclude, Latin-American culture is one of the most prominent cultures in the world and should be treated as such. Latinos have contributed food, art, fashion, and music to American and the rest of the world that has become a major focus of mainstream media. Maybe it’s time that we began appreciating Latinos the way we appreciate what they have given to us.

The Side to Islam People Don’t See

For the longest time, Islam and its followers have been scrutinized and unappreciated, dating back to even ancient times when Arabic scholars were not given credit for their accomplishments in mathematics and science. It is hard to believe that one of the oldest religions in the world receives so much hate, mostly promoted by ignorant people who fail to understand its culture.

Islam, albeit a religion, has created a global culture filled with beauty and love. From the very start, the Quran has preached an ideal of peace and devotion. In my opinion, the truth and beauty of this sacred text has been twisted by both the media and by radicals to support and validate violence. Ever since 2001, following the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers, closet racists have taken advantage of this devastating moment in American history to target all Muslims, easily confusing correlation with causation.

It is saddening to see that some of the very facets of Islamic culture, which have deep meaning and purpose, are shown to be derogatory, like the hijab, for example. The hijab, which is a CHOICE for Muslim women in most cases, who choose to veil their whole bodies or at least part of their head because they feel that covering up their bodies allows women to be seen as more than sexual objects, but rather focus on their minds. That being said, many Islamic women have the freedom to choose whether they will dress a certain way or not, and different interpretations of the Quran allow people to express themselves through different clothing options. Again, this does not stop the media from exclusively focusing on a small group of radicals who oppress women with harsh laws.

It is certainly frustrating to think that even though so many Muslims around the world are just normal citizens going about their business, worshiping as they please, but are treated as an outside group simply because of the actions of a few. Personally, I think that this highlights the xenophobia displayed so prominently because radical Christians are not put so harshly in the public eye. If Christian groups protest against gay marriage, a fundamental human right, they are justified because of their religion and are allowed to believe what they believe as long as it does not interfere with other people, which is quite fair. However, if people who practice Islam express their religious beliefs, they are considered to be oppressive in many cases, as people certainly seem to forget that the reason that 99% of people practice Islam, whatever branch of it they may follow, because of choice. And this is not at all to bash Christians or to say that Christians are terrible people: I simply am saying that because of the fact that Christians are a majority in media, radical groups are allowed some more leeway rather than Muslims.

Islam certainly has its flaws through the way people interpret it, resorting through violence when they should not: But so does every other religion on this planet. The very purpose of religion is to be open to interpretation, and the only way that we are going to be able to stop violence caused by religion is to understand that before we are Hindu, Christian, or Islamic, we are human. If we, as a people, begin to understand and respect other people’s beliefs and rights, the world will be a much safer place to live in, for everybody.

“Holi” Cow: India’s Pretty Awesome

During this past week, Indians all across the world celebrated the festival of Holi, a celebration of colors that highlights the festivity of the Indian culture. Despite being the holiday in India tied least to the Hindu religion, Holi still has a major significance in Indian life, being the indicator of the spring harvest. Serving as a time for merrymaking, many social norms are discarded as people crowd the streets of India (or parks and temples) to throw colored powder at each other and have water fights. During this festival, a bonfire is lit in every celebratory area, which is believed to originate from Hindu mythology: a wicked demon kind would not allow his son to worship a god, so he put him on a funeral pyre with his evil aunt, Holika (believed to be immune to fire). As the story goes, the son was unscathed and the aunt was miraculously killed by the fire, hence the name for the festival, which symbolizes the demise of Holika.

Despite the festivities that go on in India continuously and the deep religious significance behind them, many of India’s complex cultural aspects often go unrecognized from other nations, leaving many Indians in foreign nations subject to racism and offensive stereotypes. Especially in America, the Indian community is often targeted as the butt of racist jokes, in which many people use falsified and unjust generalizations of Indians to make fun of people. For example, the stereotype that all Indians are unhealthily obsessed with their studies, the generalization that all Indians in America are either cab drivers or in tech support, all discriminate against us and are unfortunately perpetuated by the media. Case in point: In “The Big Bang Theory,” Kunnal Nayyar’s character, Raj, who is an antisocial nerd who, in a show full of antisocial nerds, manages to stand out particularly as the one with the least social savvy with a cheap imported accent. Even though he is an immigrant, I feel like his accent and mannerisms are extremely exaggerated to point out his “Indian-ness”. Another prime example of this could be seen in the Disney Channel show, “Jesse”: Ravi, an adoptee from India by a wealthy family, although expected to be struggling to adjust, is continually shown to be as stereotypical as possible, characterized by the stereotypes that Indians are bad at sports and extremely geeky.

Although the media is becoming more open to ethnic minorities in America, including Indians, there is still an open bias against Indian people. For some reason, Indian immigrants are treated with less respect than other foreigners. One comic that I read pointed out this harsh reality, where a French tourist was put on a pedestal for his “cute” accent after saying he could not speak English well, while an Indian woman who made the same statement was criticized and told by the opposite characters to go back to her own country, while they also made comments saying that Indians should not come here without knowing English.

Besides discrimination from the media, Indian culture, like many other ethnicities, is subject to cultural appropriation. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez use Indian symbols such as the bindi (a forehead ornament) without realizing its significance and while not paying attention to social concerns that this decorative item represents. Although this may seem trivial since a bindi is a fashion accessory, the meaning behind the white majority using Indian symbols while also discriminating against Indians shows a hypocrisy that, while it may not be present in all of the white majority, sets the undercurrent of racial inferiority, with the idea that Indian culture is simply the latest fashion fad that can be used and then discarded.

 

Admittedly, Indians are certainly not outwardly subjected to racism and violence MOST of the time. However, certain people’s ignorance (who associate all Indians with radical Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda) leads to hate crimes against peaceful Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. The future, though, is not as bleak as it may seem now for minorities, I believe. The new generation of enlightened and informed young people who are growing up in a world full of prejudice will, I think, be a more tolerant generation than their forefathers and learn to accept each other.