In 2012, six Sikh people were murdered by a white-supremacist in Wisconsin. In April, a man was kicked off a Southwest flight for speaking Arabic.
Brown and Dangerous? Life in Post 9/11 America hosted by Maryland Discourse took place in Tydings Hall May 3. Attendees discussed the phobias and racism surrounding Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and Arab immigrants after the 9/11 attacks. Joseph Chuzkin, sophomore economics major and member of Maryland Discourse, moderated the discussion held in honor of Asian-American Month.
The panel consisted of Deepa Iyer, Samiha Ahmed, sophomore neurobiology and public health double major and member of the Muslim Student Association and Navraj Singh, junior finance and economics major and member of the Sikh Student Association.
Iyer is the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, and is an immigrant from India who moved to Kentucky when she was 12. She said she grew up with a race identity crisis because often in the South, race was put in white or black binaries. She said in college she became racially conscious, and after 9/11, realized her call to action to make people aware and advocate against the backlash Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and Arab immigrants after the attacks.
All the panelists discussed what it was like to face discrimination in their communities. Ahmed said she only started wearing a hijab recently, but it wasn’t until the UNC Chapel Hill shooting or the proposed SEE showing of American Sniper when she first saw people noticing her hijab and her religion.
Singh, along with Iyer, was an immigrant from India who grew up in Kentucky. Singh said Kentucky was the worst place to be because he was one of the only kids with a turban. He contemplated continuing to wear his turban because of the rude comments and discrimination he faced.
“I would always get discriminated … it got to the point where I had to say, ‘I’ve had enough,’” he said. But Singh and his father continued wearing their turbans regardless of the situations they had to deal with.
The panel shifted to a more current situation: the Syrian refugee crisis.
“…people have an innate fear of the unknown, and they’re judging refugees based on what they know about Muslims from the mainstream media, which is completely distorted,” Ahmed said.
She spoke of her experience knowing a refugee family in Maryland and their fear of Americans.
Iyer said there are three forces existing in America and Europe right now. Those are islamophobia, xenophobia and racial anxiety, which is the concern of a country’s culture shift because demographics are changing drastically.
On politics, the panelists discussed presidential candidate Donald Trump. Singh said racism has always been in American people, but Donald Trump gave them a voice.
”Trump is the poster child for tensions that have already existed,” Ahmed said.
They all also agreed that, while President Obama has made progress to take a stand against Islamic, Sikh, South Asian and Arab discrimination, he hasn’t done enough.
“This is true if you look at the movement for black lives, if you look at the undocumented immigrant rights movement or if you look at our communities,” Iyer said. “It’s always the same: his rhetoric is great, he’s on it and he gets it, but the policies don’t match up.”
She mentioned the Obama administration continuing the Countering Violent Extremism program, which aims to prevent and intervene online radical recruitment. Iyer said it ends up surveying and targeting strictly Muslim communities. She said the government says this program keeps citizens safe but ends up violating civil liberties.
Iyer said students need to take action against racism on an individual level by disrupting a racist family conversation and on an institutional level like improving our education system or providing better media coverage of minorities.
At the end of the panel, Iyer invited attendees to write on a postcard what each individual will vow to do to take a stand against the oppression of Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and Arab people. Iyer said she will return the postcard with resources for activism each person can get involved with.
Featured Photo Credit: Sophomore Nursing Major and Muslim Student Association member Gloria Kim (left) puts a head scarf on senior Environmental Science major Pat Downie during MSA’s Head Scarf for a Day event in front of Stamp on April 12, 2016. (Jack Angelo/Bloc Photographer)
Allie Melton is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.