Why we should examine the causes of prejudice

In last week’s Trinitonian, Professor David Crockett wrote about the importance of open and respectful dialogue on university campuses. I couldn’t agree with him more on this point, and it makes me wish he had been present at the Prejudice Panel about which he wrote. My experience from inside the room was that the students and speakers did a fantastic job in presenting and being respectful of various opinions related to discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The panel was initiated by Trinity students concerned about the case of Ahmed Mohammed, a 14-year old boy from Irving, Texas who was arrested and illegally detained by authorities for bringing a homemade clock to school. The panel discussion connected Mohammed’s arrest with the documented rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in modern America and raised questions about how the conditions surrounding his arrest are linked to broader forms of racism and xenophobia.

Students in the room shared their own experiences of prejudice on the basis of different identities “” black males spoke about what it’s like to be racially profiled, women reflected on being perceived as sexual objects, and one individual shared that he receives hate mail for expressing his political opinions. The most powerful moment of the panel “” at least for me “” was when a young woman opened up about how painful it has been for her to be treated as an outsider or terrorist simply because she comes from a Muslim family.

The panel reminded me that we all experience different forms of prejudice in our lives and that, as members of the collective community of Trinity University, we will be better off if we recognize and empathize with the shared aspects of our experiences. If we have learned anything from history, we know that we are always strongest as a community when we stand together.

It is this belief of collective solidarity that motivates me to address issues of social discrimination in our world. Anti-Muslim sentiment is one such manifestation of this broader problem, and it is no secret that negative perceptions of Islam are only getting worse. There are many studies that demonstrate the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in post-9/11 America, including an alarming 2014 study from the Arab American Institute, which found that only 27 percent of Americans have a favorable attitude towards Islam, a twenty percent drop since 2001.

The negative views of Islam as a religious tradition are dangerous for us as a society. For one, people have used these perceptions to justify stereotypes about entire communities. In last week’s column, Professor Crockett used this same logic to justify the racial profiling of American Muslims.

As an American and as a Sikh, I believe it is ethically wrong to consider people guilty by association. We have all studied American and world history, and we all know what happens when we begin to judge an entire group based on the actions of a few individuals. In addition to being ethically wrong, studies have also shown that racial profiling is ineffective and takes away from resources that could be spent on effective measures that would actually make our nation safer.

As someone who has been pulled over and questioned by officers because of how I look, I can tell you that racial profiling is incredibly dehumanizing and alienating. As someone who is racially profiled at airport screenings every time I travel, I know that having my turban searched for weapons and swabbed for bomb residue is a racist policy that humiliates me and makes me feel like I do not belong in the country where I was born and raised.

Our nation is currently in a moment where anti-Muslim sentiment is increasing and fear of the other is being used to justify discrimination against entire communities. Members of our own community at Trinity University are directly affected by such injustice, and we can only support and empathize with one another once we open up our hearts and minds to what is happening in our world. We are stronger and healthier “” both individually and as a community “” when we engage in such genuine conversations. This is why I am proud to support each and every student who organized and participated in the Prejudice Panel last month.