Ahmed Abdelmageed is a faculty member at Manchester University's College of Pharmacy, is a board member of the Universal Education Foundation, United Way of Allen County and the Muslim Alliance of Indiana.
In the infamous bowl of Skittles, I would be a brown one.
You know, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, born and raised in the Mideast, all the qualifiers that would land me smack dab in the middle of the brown category.
Of course, to the discerning mind, my shade of brown is not to be confused with South American brown, North African brown or Indian brown (of course, India Indians, not Red Indians). And for the geographically astute who know that Palestine is in Asia, the yellow of my Asian origin does not supersede the brownness of all my other attributes.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I do not mention the recent advancements our society has made in racial terminology. As an Arab-American or Muslim-American, I am, of course, a minority – further subcategorized as an immigrant. The label is firmly established when you hear that ever-slight accent that still pops up every now and again even after 20 years of living in the Western world.
My parents sought refuge in Qatar in the early ’60s due to the continued military expansionism of Israel on their homeland of Palestine.
My father, a businessman, and my mother, a teacher, helped build Qatar. But Qatar, like the majority of Arab countries, does not naturalize you even if you were born and raised there.
Due to my parents’ dedication to providing a better life for their children, they sought refuge again in Canada after I, the youngest of five kids, finished high school in 1996. After earning my bachelor of science in biology and receiving my Canadian citizenship in 2000, I moved to the United States in pursuit of further education and have been calling the U.S. home since. During this time, I have earned a doctoral degree in pharmacy, worked in the health care field, built a business with my wife and helped establish two new pharmacy programs in two different states.
I am the husband of a beautiful nurse in the making, the proud father of three young children with unlimited potential and the friend, colleague and neighbor of countless beautiful souls. Yet the national discourse around me, and many more like me, strips me down to a label:
• A label that erases the human behind it and serves as a shortcut to conclusions that can be crafted and manipulated by media and politicians to serve as a convenient, easy answer to complex questions.
• A label that can be or is, as the situation is currently, blamed for everything from lack of jobs to terrorist activities. A label that completely blinds you to the flesh and bones that carry it and carry with it real concerns, emotions and aspirations.
Some might argue that labeling and categorizing is simply a human trait. After all, science tells us that we subconsciously gather clues from our environment, process data and deduce action without much conscious thought of all the steps involved as an efficient way of utilizing energy. In many instances, this process can prove to be an effective survival mechanism as well.
For example, when you see a snake, you recognize a snake and assume danger within a few short seconds. You then proceed either to walk or run away to protect yourself or remove/kill the snake to protect yourself and your surroundings. The same can be said of many things that we do in our lives without much thought (think of walking, driving your car or even breathing).
We as humans, however, cannot simply be reactive to a primal instinct in our dealings with one another. When we extend this behavior to our human interaction, especially with those who do not “look like us” and do not go beyond the superficiality of a label, we lose the main distinguishing factor that makes us human.
We lose our ability to think, choose and make conscious decisions. We lose sight of the beauty that exists in our vastly different shapes, sizes, colors and in our philosophies, beliefs and outlooks on life.
The existential threat that we face as Americans today is our own biases fueled by ignorance.
Our lack of understanding of one another.
Our lack of appreciation of the value of the life of the “other.”
It’s time to take a deeper look at ourselves.
It’s time to address the politics of fearmongering and hate.
It’s time to look beyond the convenience of a label.