This Opinion Piece in the New York Post is bothering me. In the spirit of turning the other cheek I tried for days to pretend I didn’t read it. I told myself that no one really reads these pieces except the people who already agree with the well-known-agenda of the New York Post. But that didn’t make me able to un-read it. My critical thinking has been irritating my conscience into responding as best I can.
I do believe that, much like fundamental rights and muscles, if we do not exercise our critical thought, we lose it. If we don’t question, research, learn and examine what we might otherwise easily accept as truth, I fear we risk losing the ability to utilize critical thinking forever. The Internet can either insulate us snugly within our prejudices or it can expand our thinking and belief system into learning more about other cultures, other worlds and other lives.
Yes, I am a liberal old white woman with a black child, and I try to not let my own recently formed awareness of the complexities of race inform every moment of my day. But the fact is, the complexities and politicization of race is everywhere nowadays– even in news stories that purport to not be about race. Despite significant progress in establishing racial equality by undermining ignorance, there is a powerful undercurrent doing it’s level best to undermine the critical thought necessary to achieve true progress of racial, religious and class equality.
I am aware that I get what I deserve by reading the New York Post, but as a Virgo with a touch of OCD, I read my horoscope every day. It’s my twitch. And say what you will about the Post, but Sally Brompton rocks.
That said, Kyle Smith, the young, white and ginger opinion writer (also a novelist, movie critic and writer of a short-lived TV series called Love Monkey) strives to diminish what happened to a 14 year brown immigrant boy saddled with the name Ahmed Mohamed, while living in Irving, Texas (do NOT try that at home) by making Ahmed’s fame all about kneejerk reverse racism.
Granted, I’m home sick with jetlag as well as a head cold during a heat wave so I might not make a convincing counterpoint, but here’s my level best.
By now everyone knows that Ahmed made a clock (or just took the face off of it and put it in a box, yes Bill Maher, I heard you) and brought it to school— where he was promptly handcuffed, arrested, and detained in a Juvenile Detention Facility and not allowed to talk to his parents. Then Twitter, Facebook and Obama exploded with support for Ahmed’s clock.
And since speech is free and Kyle Smith’s getting paid by Rupert Murdoch to criticize films and the Pope for caring about the environment and poor people, Smith’s column contrasts Ahmed’s waves of support with 3 white students who were mistreated in school over minor incidents. Since the white kids didn’t get bathed in the liberal love, Smith thinks this is politically correct, reverse-racism. His final damning proof of liberal hypocrisy? The only reason a seriously unqualified Senator became a two-term President– is because Obama’s brown and we’re kneejerk.
I know it’s an opinion column and Smith is entitled to his opinion, but it’s chilling when Smith (or any journalist) leaves out facts to build a version of events to support his view. And I am aware that by typing this, I’m stating an opinion as well. I also do not call myself a reporter or a news columnist. What I did do was spend a day looking into the facts Kyle Smith used (or ignored) to make his case.
Here’s what I found: Josh Welch got suspended for chewing a gun out of a Pop-Tart and pointing it at fellow students. Alex Stone got suspended when he wrote a fictional Facebook post about killing a neighbor’s dinosaur with a gun. Kendra Turner got suspended for saying ‘Bless You’ in class. Do I think these are not good things? Why yes, I do think these are bad things. But there’s a story beneath the story.
Google taught me that Kendra Turner yelled “Bless You” across a classroom, where godly talk was on a list of things the teacher did not allow in her class- along with words like ‘dumb’, ‘my bad’, and ‘stupid’. Kendra stated she blessed her classmate to demonstrate her First Amendment right. She was defending her religious freedom, which resulted in demonstrations of support in her school and in her church and online. Many pages of Internet are dedicated to Kendra’s rebellion and the people who support her action. Smith leaves all of that out. Why? Because Obama didn’t tweet Kendra?
Now to Josh Welch, the boy who chewed a Pop-Tart into a gun. Apparently Josh hollered it was a gun and waved it around the class. When he was suspended he received heaps of media attention, a lawyer, and was given a lifetime membership in the NRA. Sure, he wasn’t invited to Facebook HQ, but hey, he made a gun out of pastry- he didn’t fashion it out of a radio in shop class. Smith left out that (but The New York Daily News included) statements from the school that Josh was frequently disruptive and a disciplinary problem.
Smith also leaves out the information that both Welch and Stone’s actions and the schools’ reactions came in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school massacre. Were these teachers over-reactive in taking these students’ gun references seriously? Yes, they were. But I’m also not a teacher who has to stand defenseless in front of a classroom of children that I am responsible for protecting as well as educating. After eyeballing 6 or 7 Google search pages full of increasingly histrionic web pages heralding Josh Welch as the poster boy of the liberal war on gun rights, it felt like Josh Welch is the Ahmed Mohammed of the pro-gun movement.
Smith’s reverse-racism argument is an awkward stretch of anyone’s imagination. How can anyone with unbiased critical thought compare a kid making a fake gun and aiming it at fellow students with a kid bringing a homemade clock to school, where he showed it off, treated it not like a bomb, and repeatedly stated it wasn’t a bomb. And if they really thought it was an actual bomb, why wasn’t the school immediately evacuated? Read this if you want to think more about that.
Smith states that Alex Stone or Josh Welch weren’t embraced by the left because Stone and Welch are white. Which made me wonder. Would Kyle Smith and all the websites now attacking Ahmed and his supporters keep deriding Ahmed’s true intent and his faith and family and culture if Ahmed was white and Christian? Along those lines, I wonder what would have happened to Josh and Alex if they were brown, yellow or black. Something tells me a black kid with a Pop-Tart gun wouldn’t be getting a free lifetime NRA membership.
I believe Smith’s column is a clear case of a writer re-framing Ahmed’s public defense in a political and racially motivated light to stoke the fears of his conservative readership and keep them coming back for more.
Of course Breitbart and DC Caller eagerly fan those flames as well, alleging that Ahmed always was a trouble-making kid and a disruptive student. Not only that, but Ahmed’s sister was accused of making bomb threats years ago!! Even though it was an alleged statement that another student said she made and nothing ever came of it, that means something, right!?
Then what did Ahmed and his family do next? They went to Qatar, not to visit Mecca or the Education Center but obviously to build more bombs, because that’s what Muslims do. In case you want to read the whole story that was cherry-picked to shape Ahmed into a bad Muslim kid with troubling intent, here’s the entire Dallas Morning News article. I enjoyed this story in particular because Ahmed had a teacher every kid should have- a teacher who taught critical thought, who encouraged kids to look under the official story in order to think for themselves.
Obviously, no children, unless they are an actual danger to themselves and others, should be handcuffed and arrested. But if a school has a ‘no weapons’ or ‘no bad guys games’ (as my daughter’s school does) then that is the school’s policy.
My point, (and I do have one) is that Kyle Smith’s story is yet another factually-challenged platform designed solely to undermine a child of color’s mistreatment by his school and the local police. Smith accuses Ahmed’s supporters of making this incident political because Ahmed is a brown Muslim boy. But by contrasting white kids as victims of political correctness and ignored because they are white, Smith is doing precisley what he accuses others of doing. Linking one child’s treatment with other children’s treatment and the subsequent support (or alleged lack thereof) being based on nothing but color is a refusal to accept that racism, either implicit or explicit, simply exists.
It’s like comparing guns and… clocks.
How can you compare a fake gun to a real clock? Only when you are trying to make racism seem like a political power struggle between conservative and progressive souls. The only people who think reverse racism is a tool of reverse repression are the people who have never actually experienced racism. Who are they to define it?
What Smith appears eager to do is to make his largely white, conservative readers believe that they are in imminent danger of being eclipsed by the increasing brownness of immigrant, non-Christian America. He’s stoking the fear that white people are losing their security and privilege, especially if they dare to believe that people (of all colors and beliefs) live here to share the promise and liberty that America is supposed to stand for.
I didn’t dare read the reader comments under Kyle Smith’s opinion piece. I knew what bile and venom would be found there. I saw enough hatred in the Google searches about Ahmed.
My sad conclusion is that the internet is basically Lord Of the Rings. My husband will attest I am no sci-fi fantasy fiction fan but from what I can tell, there is this Precious Ring which holds the ultimate power to rule them all. The internet can be either a tool for informed positive change, if it’s used by those who seek the power of goodness, education and promoting peace in the world. Yet the power of this precious ring can also benefit evil– it’s powerful enough to enslave the minds and bodies and faith of all humanity in an epic battle until the end of time. And thanks to all these websites dedicated to presenting their skewed versions of the same story, we are more polarized, informed and misinformed than ever before.
Just in case you think I’ve jumped the shark on Ahmed, here’s the latest Ahmed backlash. Apparently Ahmed wasn’t really trying to make a clock at all– he misappropriated an actual clock, because he was trying to get arrested. This 14 year old wasn’t trying to impress his teacher with something he didn’t make, he was trying to foment Islamaphobic-racial-liberal-vs-conservative-disturbance because he knew a photo of a brown nerd in eyeglasses and handcuffs would motivate liberal social outrage and score him a full ride to MIT. It must be true. It was on the INTERNET.
Now, that is a false, convenient tale of racism. And it scares the hell out of me.
One Ring To Rule Them ALL….