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Intolerance must perish

Angela Saoud | Friday, August 27, 2004

A year after the terrorist attacks on September 11, I was sitting in a college classroom where a discussion about the aftermath was taking place. Sitting in a circle, many students were sharing their thoughts and ideas about terrorism. Although I was listening and adding my opinion, I mostly remained quiet. Finally, one girl spoke up.

“I think we should send all the Arabic people back to where they came from,” she said without blinking.

I was stunned. I am Arabic.

This was the first time in my life that I had ever been discriminated against because of my ethnicity. I am a white woman with brown hair and light skin. Up to this point, I had avoided being stereotyped by such things as blonde jokes or dumb men jokes. I lived a quiet existence where discrimination had never touched my life.

I had no idea what to say. In fact, I didn’t say anything for the rest of the class period. Someone had just made me feel something that I had never felt before. When I got home, I called my mother and shared my upsetting news with her. She assured me that the student had not meant it as a personal attack on me.

But that is what it felt like. Like someone had judged me before knowing me, or even realizing I am Arabic. Without any knowledge of doing so, this student had put me down because of my ethnicity. Suddenly, I found myself victim to a stereotype. And I hated it.

How many times a day do we hear someone use a stereotype? How many times have we heard friends or family refer to an entire ethnicity as lazy or stupid? How many times have we listened to someone complain about how a certain race has come here to steal all of our jobs and send us to the unemployment lines? One time is one too many.

It is unjust to blame an entire ethnicity or race for something a few people have done. Blaming a whole group of people for a terrorist attack is like blaming an entire nation for a problem like pollution or poverty. It is unfair to hold an entire group of innocent people accountable for the actions of a guilty few.

If the United States is going to survive as a country striving for freedom and liberty, we must learn to be accepting and understanding of all people, regardless of race, shape or ethnicity. There must be a conscious effort made to be fair to all people no matter who they are, or what their origins may be

This change has to start in each one of us. Future generations should not have to deal with the prejudices of others. By simply being more careful about the terms used in daily conversation, and making more of an effort to treat others equally, we can start to foster an environment where love and acceptance replace bigotry and intolerance.

Isn’t that what we all really want?