For Muslim and black Americans, the conditioning of fear, passivity, and hyperawareness of their own skin and identity begins at a young age.
Ahmed Mohamed, a 14 year old Muslim Sudanese student, built his very own clock and brought it to school to show his teacher, only to be arrested by the police and marched out of school because apparently some teachers can’t tell the difference between a clock and a bomb. They can, however, tell the difference between a white student and a black student, and the latter is supposedly threatening.
I think it’s crucial not to erase Ahmed’s identity even in the slightest. He is a Muslim Sudanese American, and to describe him as “brown” is to ignore the violent history unique to black Muslims in the United States. Indeed, even in the American Muslim community, black Muslims have been ignored and discriminated against by other Muslims. In such a situation where Ahmed, a young kid, was arrested for how he looks and his religion, we owe it to him and all other black Muslims everywhere to properly and fully acknowledge his identity.
When Ahmed brought the clock to school, he showed his engineering teacher who complimented him but advised him not to show other teachers. If that isn’t proof enough of the anti-Muslim bigotry among Americans, then what follows will be. While in another class, the clock apparently beeped in Ahmed’s backpack, stirring the attention of his teacher, who thought it looked like a bomb. Now, I think it’s pretty clear when something looks like a bomb or not; for example, actual explosives are a giveaway, which were not present in this case. I also think it’s clear when something is a clock: it ticks and tells you the time. Like Ahmed’s device.
The police who interrogated Ahmed said it looked like a “movie bomb“, whatever that is.
As stupid as his teacher may potentially be, I think it’s clear that most teachers (and police) can actually tell the difference between a bomb and a clock. We seem to forget that school staff are taught to think a certain way about certain people, and are conditioned to enforce unjust consequences and unofficial rules particular to those people. They are not magically exempt from ideological conditioning; they too live under the same roof.
They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”
— Timothy B. Lee, Vox
In the following video, the police explains that Ahmed was arrested for “a hoax bomb.” He also makes a point of mentioning that Ahmed was handcuffed “for his safety, and for the safety of the officers.” Make no mistake, this is anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-blackness at its finest.
What is sad about this is its discouraging effect on Muslim youth. If anything, we should be trying to get more Muslim and Black children involved in the sciences. This does the opposite. On the one hand, white Americans tell Muslims they are backwards; one the other hand, when Muslims try to become involved with the sciences, they are deemed a threat. This is not an isolated, surprising situation. Many American Muslim kids and kids of colour are mistreated at school by staff and administration due to their identity and/or the way they look, but it’s simply swept under the rug.
Ahmed Mohamed’s case is a reminder that all institutions of the United States — schools included — depend on the discrimination of Muslims and Black people to some degree or other. Whether on a macro or micro scale, this type of behaviour is what maintains the U.S.A.’s status quo, and even extends outward to its foreign policy. Until genuine, groundbreaking systemic change is brought, academic freedom only applies to few.
What happened to Ahmed is nothing short of traumatizing and humiliating, and will follow him. This is the reality of too many Muslim people — young and old — in America.
We wish Ahmed the best in all his creative and scientific endeavours.