By Amina Qureshi, contributor
The other day, my son brought up a conversation he had had with this friends about presidential candidate, Donald Trump. He told me his friends at school said that Trump was racist. I thought it was interesting that kids his age were talking about politics and that they knew that Trump had publicly made bigoted comments about various ethnicities and religions. We discussed Trump in a very matter-of-fact way and moved on with the day.
This past week, as soon as he got in the car he asked me if Trump hated Muslims. I genuinely had no way of understanding how to navigate the conversation in any formidable direction, so I just swerved around it and changed the subject. Before I could even start a new topic he proceeded to tell me a boy at school said to him verbatim, “Trump hates all Muslims and wants to get rid of them, I thought I’d just give you a heads up.”
My instinctive reaction was “That is not true.” Yet how could I say that to my son when the reality was that Trump as well as other presidential candidates had been making remarks similar to this about Muslims and other races. I started wondering why this boy had even bothered to make such a dramatic comment to my son. Was he influenced by his own parents? was he threatened by my son who is a Muslim? or was he genuinely concerned about his safety? I wanted to continue the discussion with my son on this very sensitive topic, but decided that it was best if my husband and I did it together. After he finished his homework in the evening we sat him down and had a long discussion.
His first comment was that he was scared. He said he felt like this could really happen because it happened with the Japanese in World War II.
I felt broken inside that these thoughts were occupying his curious, growing mind and consuming his innocent little heart.
My husband and I told him that if in fact Trump had made these comments that nothing would ever happen to us as Muslims. We told him how both of us were raised as Muslims in tiny towns where we were the only minority in the entire grade or school. We reminded him that he should be very proud to be an American and that this country has all different types of people. It was important for us to let him know that both my husband and I were friends with a wide variety of people regardless of their race or religion. While the conversation continued I wondered what other parents taught their kids at home.
I wondered if they were telling their children about the importance of respecting other religions and races. Then I realized that I could only teach my own son and would hoped that he would have the confidence to stand up for his rich cultural background and religion instead of feeling targeted or outcast by a comment. As a relatively new mother, I admit, I was not prepared for a conversation in which I would have to ease my child’s anxiety about his religion or race. I knew at some point raising my children as Muslim Americans’ they would hear bigoted comments because the reality is they are embedded with every nightly news story in virtually every home.
My hope is that parents will continue to teach their children to be tolerant of all cultures and ethnicities regardless of media propaganda. The biggest influence our children have is us. Whether or not I agree with a belief or a certain lifestyle, I will always teach my children to respect all of humanity. Thankfully, the school has been very supportive towards the diverse student population. The counselor immediately addressed the importance of respecting other religions. He told the class to ask questions if they are curious instead of making hurtful comments.
As parents of first and second generation Americans, it is important that we continue to advocate for our own diversity. This entails visiting the school to teach the children about our special holidays and occasions. Sometimes comments made by other students do not come from a malicious place, but rather from a lack of education. That is why it is imperative to keep channels of communication open with the school.
More about Amina
Amina Qureshi was born in small town Cedar Falls, Iowa. She graduated from The University of Iowa in 2001 with a degree in journalism and marketing. She wrote for numerous newspaper around the state. After graduating, she moved to Chicago and worked for Xerox Corporation in their marketing department for two years.
In 2003, she married her husband who was just starting his residency in surgery. During her husband’s training Amina had two children and also took the time to do a masters in Clinical Psychology. In 2010, the family moved to New Orleans where her husband began working at Tulane. In her free time she volunteers at the school (when she can), enjoys going to the gym, and takes on the full time job of raising her three rambunctious children.
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