|Wednesday, October 4th, 2006||Kristen DiPaolo | CWK Producer|
“I was in our international business class. We were learning about what languages would be best for interacting in the business world, and Arabic came up. This guy was like, ‘Why would you want to learn Arabic? That’s what all the terrorists speak.'”
– Yosra Khalifa, 17
As Muslim-Americans celebrate this holy month of Ramadan, many are also dealing with discrimination. A recent Gallup poll shows almost 40 percent of Americans admit they feel at least some prejudice against Muslims - and that may be having an effect on Muslim teens.
That prejudice became evident to 17-year-old Yosra Khalifa when she was at school, taking a business class.
“We were learning about what languages would be best for interacting in the business world,” explains Yosra, “and Arabic came up. This guy was like, ‘Why would you want to learn Arabic? That’s what all the terrorists speak.’”
She was surprised by her own reaction.
“I actually teared up,” says Yosra. “I didn’t think I would react that way. But it hurts a lot, because it’s something that you’ve always been proud of. Like being an Arab was something I’ve always been proud of, and just to see someone react like that - I don’t know, it hurt.”
According to Yale research, Arab-Americans are more than twice as likely to be depressed as Americans overall.
And, the study suggests, the reason is discrimination.
“A lot of times,” explains 14-year-old Haniyyah Taufique, “it was just like a random boy would come up to you and say, ‘is your uncle Saddam Hussein?’ Or something like that.”
“They will basically be ignorant about it and think that all Arabs or all Muslims are terrorists or whatnot,” says 17-year-old Adam Stanford.
Experts say because of insults and jokes, some Muslim teens want to distance themselves from their culture and their religion.
“They are wanting to be more of the accepted crowd,” says Soumaya Khalifa, executive director of the Atlanta Chapter of the Islamic Speakers Bureau, an Islamic outreach group. “They want to assimilate more, they don’t want to be labeled or stereotyped as being Muslim or Arab and all the baggage that goes with that- so they just want to be plain American kids.”
According to the Yale research, Arabs who have non-Arab friends are less likely to be depressed.
“It’s going back to the acceptance that’s helpful,” says Khalifa, “I’m not only accepted by my community, but I have friends outside the community. And it’s like a self worth type of a check-in. You know, ‘I’m good enough for the whole world!’”
“I know a lot of my non-Muslim friends have stuck up for me, like when people talk behind my back or something,” says Yosra. “They have stuck up for me. And it means a lot.”
On a more positive note, experts say the events of 9-11 have motivated some Muslim and Arab teens to become leaders at their schools - promoting tolerance and education.