They now call me a warmonger
They blame me for an act I did not do
Why? I had no clue
Then it dawned upon me one day
It is because my name is not John, Eric or Jay
It is Amin, the name of my Grandfather
A proud, decent man who taught us to respect one another
September is coming once again
I hope my life goes back to normal
Then maybe my friends parents won't be so formal
(and they can come out to play)
This poem was written by an Arab-American child. Unfortunately, when a tragic event like September 11th happens, people often direct their pain and anger at others who had nothing to do with what happened. Because the terrorists were Muslims, some folks might think that everyone of that particular faith must be just like the terrorists. As a result, many Muslim and/or Arab-Americans, including children and teens, have been victims of violence and bullying since the attacks. Remember, people who practice the same religion or share the same skin color are still individuals just like yourself.
Different, But the Same
In your own experience, you've probably known at least one kid (or maybe it's happened to you) who was picked on because he or she was "different" in some way. Maybe he or she wore different clothes, had different color skin than his or her peers, spoke with an accent or celebrated a holiday you'd never heard of. Rather than dismissing someone for his or her differences, why not take the opportunity to learn about another culture? You'll probably discover that you have more in common than you think.
That's what Sara, 12, found. While she never knew anyone who was Latina before, Sara decided to get to know the new girl in her class. "It turns out we both love Harry Potter books," says Sara. "When the new book comes out, we're going to get together and have discussions on each chapter."
When 12-year-old Inshirah was teased about her religion at school, she used the experience to become more open to people of other races. "I felt bad because the kids were mean and stuff. They said, 'Oh, you're Muslim. You shouldn't be in public school,'" she remembers. While most of her friends share her religion, Inshirah decided she didn't want to be like the kids who taunted her, so she made it a point to get to know people with different backgrounds. "At my new school I have white, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Chinese and African-American friends," she says.
This is a great time to take note of the similarities and differences between the people around you. Learn about your friends and peers. Figure out how you're alike and how you're unique; for instance, you may have different color skin, but you both love tennis, or you may practice different religions, but you both love the same movies.
Get The Big Picture
"I tried to learn a lot more about the Middle East and be more sympathetic about what these people have gone through. Maybe as kids my age grow up, some of them will become leaders who can get along better with all people because this experience made them think so much about ourselves and the world."
The historical and political events behind terrorism and September 11th are pretty complicated, but it's helpful to learn the basics of who, what, where, and when.
It might help you understand not only why all this is happening, but also why people from other countries might want to seek a new life in the U.S., and why there might be differences among people who share the same religion or country of origin.
If it's too confusing on your own, ask a parent or teacher to help you explore the history of and current situations in the Middle East.
Teach Your Grown-Ups Well
Unfortunately, some adults can be just as stubborn and close-minded as schoolyard bullies. You can set an example for grown-ups by reaching out to people of other cultures. Here are a few ideas:
- Get to know some of the kids in your class whom you've never hung out with before.
- Sit lunch at a different table each week so you can meet different groups of people.
- Find out if your school has a diversity club where kids of different religions and ethnic backgrounds get together to share their customs and traditions...or start a diversity club of your own!
- Ask your teacher if you can celebrate a variety of cultural holidays in class like Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa and any other holiday that interests you. Have someone who celebrates the holiday explain origin and meaning behind the special day. Bring in any food that is traditionally eaten at that time of year. What a great excuse to have a party!
- If you hear a family member make a comment that stereotypes or "slurs" people of different ethnicities, let him or her know that you don't approve. If you feel comfortable, try to talk more about the reasons behind the comment, or ask him or her not to make such comments when you're around.
Dealing With Bullies
Sadly, not everyone will embrace differences. As you know, some kids find any reason under the sun to give others a hard time.
When David, 10, noticed some kids picking on an Arab-American boy at school, he gave them a piece of his mind. "I went over to the bullies and said, 'He's no different than you or me,' and they walked away." Even if you haven't been exposed to this situation, it doesn't hurt to be prepared. Rachel, 11, has a plan in mind: "I would tell a bully that people shouldn't make judgments so quickly based only on how someone looks, without really knowing them. I would also tell the child who was teased that they shouldn't just let the people bullying them get away with it, and maybe they should talk to a teacher to make them do something about the problem." If the bullying doesn't stop, it's time to call for backup. This means tell your teacher, your parents, or another trusted adult about the situation and get help.
For more tips, check out the IML section on Bullies.
Below is another poem written by an Arab-American boy.
by Ibraheem, 10
Why can't we be one happy family?
Why do we fight?
Is it because I'm wrong and you're right?
We fight over land, we fight over power
Minute after minute, hour after hour.
As the struggle for peace gets tougher,
It's the children who really suffer.
They grow up with hate and anger, and the need for revenge,
For the killing of his father, and the pain of his
mother that will never end.
Peace doesn't have to be a mirage,
We can make it a reality,
If I respect you and you respect me.
Instead of being divided, we should be united.
Peace is a gift we can give each other,
We must learn to love and respect one another.
Next: Read Sam and Harry's Story