Ideas can be a form of violence like any other, and recent events have shown how easily an idea can turn into actual violence. Social battles rooted in racial dynamics have been prevalent in our nation’s history since its founding. But at this point in the information age, such discrimination is absurd. With the abundance of resources available to learn understanding and appreciation, not to mention the expectation of simple moral acceptance, hate crimes should not exist in 2012. However, the recent killings of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi, which by many accounts were solely as a result of judgment of appearance accompanied by bigoted ideology, reflect a horrifying trend toward radical racism. Discrimination on any basis, whether violent or not, is obscene and unacceptable.
In Florida, Trayvon Martin was shot twice and killed by George Zimmerman, a self-professed neighborhood watchdog. When asked to explain his motive for pulling the trigger, Zimmerman told police that Martin “looked like he was up to no good,” as evidenced by the hoodie the teen wore. In California, Shaima Alawadi was severely beaten, and eventually died from her wounds. Two notes were found by her body, the first read “This is my country, go back to yours terrorist,” and the second demanded “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” While there are no current suspects, the tension appears to have been based on appearance — she wore a head scarf as part of Islamic tradition.
The insanity of killing a presumably innocent teenager is only amplified by the logic behind Zimmerman’s suspicion. Following and subsequently assaulting a teenager based on nothing but physical appearance is barbaric. A hoodie denotes little more than stylistic preference or a desire for warmth. Suspicion based on such petty grounds is thinly disguised racism, which is inexcusable whether it is explicit or subconscious.
The similarities between Martin’s and Alawadi’s killings are clear. Whatever one’s personal views may be, a head scarf alone says nothing about a person beyond expressing religious belief — it is simply a demonstration of faith, which is protected by the First Amendment. Religion and political opinion are often two distinct aspects of any given person’s belief system. Faith does not necessarily align an individual’s interests with those of a faction of religious radicals.
National political uncertainty and economic strife in America should not create frustration toward specific ethnic or religious groups. The internal social problems we now face cannot be solved by making strangers into scapegoats. The first step toward eradicating discrimination is recognizing it, and the activism surrounding these killings has reflected that recognition. It’s encouraging that youth are utilizing social media to respond to these issues. It’s the upcoming generations’ responsibility to be more tolerant than the last, and bring about an end to bigotry.