September 16, 2008

OMG, I'm Prejudice by Blayne

“Valarie Kaur was a 20-year-old college student when she set out across America in the aftermath of 9/11, camera in hand, to document hate violence against her community. From the still-shocked streets of Ground Zero to the desert towns of the American west, her epic journey confronts the forces unleashed in a time of national crisis – racism and religion, fear and forgiveness – until she finds the heart of America… halfway around the world.”

90 Minutes. In 90 minutes, the way that I viewed September 11th and prejudice was completely changed. In this program we watched a documentary titled, Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath ( . The fact is that history is one sided, told from one common perspective. Often we do not hear from the “other side”. One must wonder “if history is to help us avoid repeating mistakes, what happens when history is not recorded in a way that shows many sides?”

“Turban Equals Terrorist”. During the documentary, there was a white female who discussed her process after she had been on a train where a Sikh American had been criminalized because he fit a stereotype that people had painted of a terrorist. Her comments were blunt, but they hit like a sharp knife. As I listened to her say that she was nervous after she saw the two men who had turbans around their heads, I flashed back to experiences where I grew nervous due to the same reason. Like that woman, to me, “turban equaled terrorist”. The image was engrained into my thoughts from mass media images of so called “terrorists” who happened to wear turbans. An easy cop out would be that the media is solely to blame for my prejudice thoughts. However, as an individual I should try to educate myself. Profiling and stereotyping in any form, for any reason is WRONG! I was guilty of the same behavior, and there was no excuse besides pure ignorance.

I am Prejudice…Really? This particular program had caught my attention because there are many stories that are not recorded in history. I wanted to hear the history from a different side. The movie was truly powerful…I was thinking all day about what I heard. As I ate dinner, pieces of the documentary flooded my thoughts. Especially this one particular question: Was I guilty of discriminating against Sikhs or individuals who wore turbans? This is a hard question to answer. Ideally, I would like my answer to be “no.” How could I stereotype and discriminate a group of people when I have been a victim of the same behavior? After many struggles with this question my answer was shamefully, YES.

Bystander, Victim, or Perpetrator. As I watched the documentary, I was able to see the pain that had affected so many Americans – a painful story that was never told. When planes were flown into the two towers by Al Qaeda terrorists (which was not known at the time of the attack), Americans were terrorizing other Americans based on their own perceptions of fear. I am haunted by the question, “Why have I not heard this story before today?” and “Why did I never pay attention to them?” My ignorance allowed me to idly watch as people were brutalized for being who they are – Sikh Americans.

The movie reminded of my own prejudices. It forced me to think about who I viewed as “American”, who I pictured when I heard the word “terrorist”, and challenged me to want to learn about the different sides of a story.
The movie also forced me to ask a more difficult, personal question:

How many times have I done this before?