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Teaching our children to fear

I am not a racist. But every time I see a head scarf, I don't know what to call it or where to look. Every time I see a Muslim, I don't know what to say or how to act. Just the word Muslim leaves me in mental disarray, because I don't know what to think. [Terrorist?] And every time I board a plane and see a Muslim, I don't know what to do but pray. But I am not a racist.

I have been conditioned to respond this way.

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I am a "kid" of 9/11, and that should explain it all, but it's no excuse. I'm a white, Jewish woman with a memory of being 10 and watching the World Trade Center towers fall — over and over and over again. But that shouldn't mean a thing, not when I look at my medical school colleague dressed in her hijab and see kindness in her eyes, not when I reach out to my neighbor after his morning prayers and fall breathless to his brilliance. They are Muslim, and they are incredible, and that should mean everything.

So when I read an article about a young man de-boarded from a plane [because he's Muslim] and when I watch the news emphasize the [Muslim] origins of a terrorist attack, I can't help but grow frustrated. What are we doing? Of course, history — distant and present — matters, and we must educate our youth so as to not repeat the past. But when we saturate the media with racism, and when we perpetuate the fallacy of all-or-nothing, American-versus-Muslim thinking, what are we really doing?

When I look at a mother dressed in a black gown and fear making eye contact [because she'll think I'm racist], when I read a person's name and assume knowledge of his identity [because Muslim should tell me everything], I know exactly what we are doing: recreating the [racist] past.

And now is the time to stop. With our views, with our writing and with our conversations on the street, now is the time to stop. Stop and ask a neighbor about his beliefs and what his symbols mean. Stop and ask the mother dressed in black if you can help her lift her bag. Because these individuals are not the terrorists we are trained to fear. This rich, diverse culture that is Muslim is not our nation's greatest threat. It is a culture with radicals — as are the American culture, the Jewish culture, the culture of Christian sects — but it is also a culture rich with insight, passion and productivity. It is a culture yielding physicians, educators and politicians. It is a culture that is part of America, and it is about time our news reports and conversations remove the label of "other."

I am not a racist, but every time I open my web browser and see another article pointing to another attack by another Muslim radical, I am furious. Because this media frenzy, this national finger-pointing, this one-sided conversation has biased our implicit thoughts. Every day, we have the gift of proving these publicized biases wrong, and every day, we have the opportunity to spare the next generation from forming such biases.

And I have to say, I have never been more ready to celebrate the beauty in a culture I was [almost] conditioned to fear.

Mirissa D. Price is a writer and dental student at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Her email is mirissa_price@hsdm.harvard.edu; website: mirissaprice.wordpress.com.

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