By Jasmine Wright
It has been almost 10 years since four passenger jets were hijacked and crashed into the Twin Towers, Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Even though so much time has passed, the gravity of this tragic event still looms in our hearts, even with the generation barely old enough to remember that day.
When 9/11 happened, I was nine years old and in fourth grade. I remember just getting to school, putting away my backpack, sitting on my classroom’s circle rug, and my teacher preparing us for the long school day ahead. But nothing could prepare us for what was going to come.
Soon everyone was in a rush, crying and staring at the television. I had no idea what was actually happening; I just knew that it was something catastrophic.
Kids began disappearing from the classroom as parents came to take them home and shield them from this terrorist attack. What they didn’t realize is that no one in America could be shielded, and this moment would have a powerful impact on life in America for the next decade.
Latifah Al-Hazza, a Kuwaiti student here, doesn’t remember 9/11 quite the way that I do. “I remember coming home from school that day in Virginia Beach, North Carolina, and getting off the bus, and my neighbors came up to me and started yelling ‘your people killed our Americans’ over and over again. I didn’t know what was going on.”
As I spoke with my peers about the months and years that followed, I heard a diversity of perspectives and experiences that speaks to the complicated legacy of the events that day.
New York Native, Dave Mischiu a Romanian sophomore at the university, remembers how a Middle Eastern run convenient store was treated after the attack. “After the attacks, [the store] was being boycotted. … the ACLU was in their defense saying that these people have nothing to do with the attack and saying that everyone protesting was being ‘racist.’ … It turns out that in the end, the store owners were actually one of the top contributors to a charity deemed by the government to be aiding terrorist groups… … so that really didn’t help people’s perception of Arabs. In general we saw a lot more hostility following those attacks. ”
Ashkon Raei is a sophomore at the University of Illinois-Urbana and a Persion. He doesn’t remember being treated differently. “I don’t really remember how minorities were treated before 9/11, I feel like I was treated the same the whole time. I don’t feel like anything has changed.”
Tyler Garza, a junior and Mexican-American says he thinks that Muslims and people from the Middle East still feel the sting from that day. “People have been more cautious with people of the middle eastern descent. Especially at the airport, they are randomly selected more often. They endure lots of stares and discrimination on the planes.”
African America freshman, Ariana Taylor, says that it has always been hard for minorities in society, but it definitely got worse for Middle Easterners in America after 9/11.“Being a minority before was definitely not easy but it got a lot worse after that. I think people were just scared and paranoid and didn’t know exactly who to blame so they blamed Middle Easterners full heartedly.”
Latifah agrees with Tyler. She says that whenever she travels from her hometown Virginia Beach to northern parts of the country, the discrimination gets worse. “Our treatment is definitely better than before, but it’s still there. When I start traveling up north, we get a lot of stares. Once at a restaurant, someone blurted out load, ‘he looks like a terrorist,’ about my father.”
Latifah believes that some Americans continue to blame Middle Easterners and Muslims for 9/11, but that this belief is not as widespread. “The only terrorist jokes that I hear are jokes about Middle Easterners. But I think as a whole, Americans have become a lot more open minded, unlike right after it happened.”
Senior, and African American, Julian Parker, agrees that the association of all Middle Easterners and Muslims with 9/11 is still fresh in his mind. “I can’t help but think about 9/11 when I see middle easterners, but I think it’s definitely starting to go away. Their conditions are starting to increase day by day.”
Latifah still see’s a lot of prejudice, and she feels that sometimes others treat her with less respect than she deserves. This has led to some fear and conflict. “Whenever I go out with my friends that are also from Kuwait, people will ask where we are from. My friends will tell me not to say that we are from Kuwait, because we will get bad service if we do. It’s never happened to me, but I guess it happens to a lot of middle easterners.” She also feels that there are inequities in institutional and systemic practices regarding declaration of race and ethnicity: “It’s weird that when I’m applying for jobs or for school, a majority of times, Middle Eastern is in the same category as white. But it’s like, I’m not white, I’m a minority in this country, so I should receive the same benefits as other minorities.”
In my own observations, I have seen that the hostility has continued throughout the last ten years. The more time that has passed, the more the media and government have clarified that it wasn’t all of Middle Eastern and Muslim culture. This has improved things some, but all the negative coverage about Middle Easterners and Muslims seems to have left our younger generation skeptical, fearful, discriminatory and anti-Muslim.
With more time elapsing, you would think that the fear of and discrimination against Muslims and Middle Easterners would fade, and that they would become somewhat accepted again, but that may just be a fool’s dream. Didn’t we think time would erase the prejudice and inequality experienced by other minorities in the U.S.? The tirade against Muslim and Middle Eastern people will forever leave a black mark on their acceptability in this country. So sit down minorities, and band together, this is going to be a bumpy ride.