Taking on hate and racism

Students and faculty joined together in the BC cafeteria on Monday, Feb. 29 to discuss racism and other types of hate. The discussion was mostly about hate against Muslims and Arabs, and the panelists were all in their own way activists for abolishing this hate.

Remi Kanazi is a Palestinian-American poet, writer and organizer who uses his work to campaign Palestinian freedom from occupation. Rajaa Gharbi is the first North African poet in the USA to have been published and publicly funded for her work. She is a co-founder of the Arabic program and a former teacher at BC. Jasmin Samy works as a civil rights manager for CAIR-Washington, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a branch of the country’s largest American Muslim civil rights organization, and speaks frequently on topics like understanding one’s rights. Shakh Syed Umair Ahmad is a Seattle-based scholar and youth director at Mirhaab Foundation, and served as the president of the Muslim Student Association at North Seattle Community College. Also on the panel was Faisal Jaswal, who is assistant dean of Student Programs at Bellevue College.

Muslim Student Association President Owla Mohamed welcomes students to the discussion.
Muslim Student Association President Owla Mohamed welcomes students to the discussion.

The panel focused on a specific topic of hate because of the anti-Muslim discrimination escalating and being brought to attention by the incident in Paris and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to Orchideh Raisdanai, chair of the Arabic Culture Student Association. Bellevue College students are not exempt from racism either. Recently, BC’s B building bathroom walls and library tables were vandalized with anti-Muslim remarks written on them.

“Once this happened on our own campus we decided that we definitely needed to have this event and do more events like it to take a stand against hate and educate our student community about the truth of cultures and beliefs,” said Raisdanai.

During the discussion, panelists were asked questions by the organizers and members of the audience. “My personal definition of racism is when you don’t accept people’s beliefs or respect them,” explained Samy. Ahmad agreed with Samy and added to it by saying that  Islam teaches that “there is nobody higher or lower than ourselves.” A common misconception about this religion, he said, is that it teaches the opposite. “It isn’t hard to demonize someone if you don’t know them,” he said.

In regards to the idea of privilege, Gharbi’s answer went beyond white privilege, saying, “We are privileged because we were not here originally.” She then encouraged students and educators to look at the implications of this privilege and how it affected their daily lives. Kamazi, however, said that people needed to take it a step further by not just asking the question of “what privilege is, but what you do with it.”

The panel also discussed topics like how students can become allies against hate and how to avoid participating in even the subtlest kinds of discrimination. Types of subtle discrimination include racist jokes, statements and stereotypes that aren’t seen as racist even though they should be. To stop this, Jaswal recommended that people should “not participate in that which is stereotypical. Think before you speak,” Jaswal advised, “Take a position against hate and take a stand against racism.” All of the panelists mentioned that any bullying based on race should be stopped and reported.

Following the questions, the mic was open for people to read poetry and for audience members to discuss their views on hate. Owla Mohamed, a member of the BC MSA and one of the organizers of this event, said that she was satisfied with the outcomes of the panel but that this wasn’t the end of the overall discussion. “This event was one step to clarify any misunderstandings and fight ignorance,” she said. “It was successful, but still only one step in the right direction and we have a long way to go.”