Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Watchmaker

So. You're probably waking up to hear about a particularly-bright, science/engineering inclined 14 year-old boy in Texas who was arrested, detained, taken from his school and interrogated about "terrorism" by police. Why? Because his name is Ahmed Mohamed, and someone thought the homemade clock he'd brought to school looked like a bomb.

Here is the kid explaining what went down. Saddest part: He had already taken pains while designing the clock to make it not look suspicious - which means that, at 14, this child has already had to internalize "adjust your behavior so you don't make anyone whose already made a racist assumption about you uncomfortable."

As this was hitting the news overnight, I tweeted spontaneously about it and now I see those tweets getting shared around a lot, so I figured I'd copy said tweets into proper paragraphs. You can hit the jump to see them:

(From around 12:30am EST)

This. Is. FUCKING. INFURIATING.

This shit has been happening since 9/11, and because people (including me) were (rightly) scared we turned a blind eye to it as just part of the "well, we all have to be more aware of things now" ephemera like airport screenings sucking. And it's bullshit. This isn't "Don't yell fire in a crowded theatre. This is "Don't do ANYTHING to get noticed if you are Muslim/Arab/etc. And it's our fault.

One more thing about that story to consider: That kid is in the 9th grade. 9/11 was 14 years ago. This has been his ENTIRE. LIFE. He doesn't have any "America before, the way it was supposed to be" memories. His entire life has happened in a country where he is IMMEDIATELY suspect of the worst things imaginable because of his name, his skin and his parents' religious heritage. 


This isn't 1955. This isn't "that ancient time before that man made dream-speech when we were bad." This is TODAY. This is your world NOW. All because we decided 14 years ago "The Guy Who Didn't Act When He Saw Something" was the ONE thing you must avoid becoming at any cost - while, ironically, we gave a second term to the "leaders" who did EXACTLY THAT.


So now, barring an immediate miracle, this *14 year-old* has two choices (assuming the charges are dropped):


1. Keep his head down and get ahead without drawing MORE undue attention. 2. Become a cause-celeb for (mostly) white liberals to rally around for feel-goods, which will "stick" to him and be used to undercut any achievement he makes for the rest of his life.


Mark your calendar for 2020-23. That's when the first generation of Muslim/Arab/ME/etc Americans born immediately before/during/after 9/11 are going to be graduating College. Some of them to write books, make films/TV, report news, tell stories, etc; and they are going to have stories to tell and images to share about how THEIR lives were during what YOU probably think of as an overall pretty-good era to come up through that are going to shame you and infuriate you and shake you to your core. Our children will look back on how U.S. treated people of ME/Muslim-descent in the decade post-9/11 the way we look at Japanese Internment.


For [all] the talk of individual/communal resilience (which was/is VERY real) 9/11 really did successfully leave a lasting, debilitating injury on the U.S. It hobbled us, we stumbled, we reacted badly and we are still paying for it (and still acting badly.) We went backward. We'll get out of it. We always do. But historically, it's place is next to FDR's "Second Bill of Rights" not being fully adopted, JFK's death, Challenger exploding etc as a tragic historical "If Only..."



Also, something I mentioned in follow-up that I feel is especially relevant: Internet activism community? Please resist turning this child into a hashtag. If you want to help, send him support, emotional or otherwise - maybe scholarships, if you're in position to do so. Give to his family's legal defense fund, if it comes to that. But it's wrong to make a "martyr" of a living person unless they volunteer for it. And while it might feel like the "big picture" righteous thing to do, I promise you that using support (however sincere) for this kid to mark YOU as "one of the good guys" will end up "marking" him in ways that could ultimately be detrimental (or even "just" frustrating and stifling) as he goes on.