Unite against stereotypes
The Minority Report
I had the pleasure of joining several other students last Friday in a social action project to combat bullying against minority students, led by the Arab Cultural Club’s Vice President Leila Brollosy. We visited the St. Charles Borromeo School in Harlem, where we had the chance to speak with students from sixth to eighth grade about how we view different minorities and how that affects the way we treat each other. Because of the demographic of the area, we chose to focus on black, Hispanic and Arab/Muslim minorities. Our goal was to work with the administration in creating an open and honest discussion about stereotypes, racism and bullying.
One of the main and most interesting portions of the social action project was the stereotype cards. Leila brought in three different posters, each one representing a different minority —“Black,” “Latino” and “Arab/Muslim” — and told the students to grab a marker and write down on each poster what first came to mind when they thought of that minority. We encouraged the students to be very honest about what they wrote and reassured them that no one would be offended. All of the students were eager to share their thoughts — some were accompanied by giggles, others with gasps, and some students even got angry at the words their friends were writing —but the final product was really an eye-opener.
When everyone finished writing, and we finally held up the posters in front of the gymnasium of students, everyone fell silent, and whispers erupted among different groups of students. Not a single minority was free from negative stereotypes. The “Latino” poster stood in the center, splattered with words like “nachos,” “tacos,” “black hair” and “short,” with huge attention placed on physical appearance. The “Arab/Muslim” poster, which grabbed the most attention, unequivocally had the harshest words associated with it — many of them repeated, such as “terrorists,” “Osama,” “AK-47” and “crazy people.” Even though the student body was predominantly black, even the “Black” poster had some negative stereotypes written on it — the word “ghetto” garnered the most backlash amongst the students, who knew that was not what their community stood for.
There is no doubt that Hispanic minorities have been suffering increased discrimination in our country. Alabama recently passed a new law with the aim of stopping illegal immigrants from receiving public assistance. An Associated Press article reported increased cases of bullying in schools since the law took effect, with students being taunted for their heritage and being called things such as “a damn Mexican.” Residents have even cited increased tensions against the Hispanic community, and critics believe the law is contributing to heightened fear and mistrust in the state.
Negativity and discrimination toward the Hispanic community further sharpened in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when racism toward minorities seemed to become an acceptable norm in our society, especially toward Arabs and Muslims. In addition to their disproportionate and biased portrayal in the news, the Arab and Muslim communities have had to deal with anti-Sharia laws in different states, hostile attacks on their places of worship and even a crazy pastor leading a national campaign to burn their holy book. And on top of that, innocent children are being taunted in school everyday by being called things like “terrorist,” being told to “go back to their own country” and having their allegiance to the United States questioned.
The students at St. Charles Borromeo recognized that the media is feeding many of the stereotypes and misconceptions festering across the country. When we asked them how minorities are represented in the media, a group of students called out in unison that the criminals on television shows are always black or Hispanic. One student even raised his hand to tell us that when he and his friends play video games in which the point of the game is to “shoot all the Arabs.” The students had very strong feelings of hurt and anger about how black people are portrayed in our society and were quick to realize that this was a struggle faced by all minorities in our country. One student who was moved by the posters told me, “Minorities really judge other minorities … it’s sad.”
But the poster with the word “Black” written on it shows signs of hope for our minority youth. The students were very positive about their identity, associating the word with terms such as “unity,” “beauty” and “educated.” They had a very strong and optimistic self-image, signaling self-awareness about the portrayal of blacks in the media and their knowledge of the truth. While the media is trying to paint minorities in a negative light, it is actually having the opposite effect on some youth, fostering a stronger sense of identity among them. That strong sense of identity is the first major building block in rebuilding our society.
The next one is when minority youth use their experiences to better understand members of different communities and recognize that we are all in one unified struggle against stereotypes and misunderstandings. Then, this culminating force for change can affect the minds of countless people and even revolutionize an entire generation.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Middle Eastern studies and political science with a minor in French. Her column, “The Minority Report,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.