On July 4th, people all over the United States celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, a document that is composed of our highest ideals and our core beliefs. My love for this country is rooted in my appreciation for the values forever engraved in that paper, a hallmark of America’s history. On July 4th, I celebrate freedom, equality, justice, individuality, and expression.
On this day, I feel both patriotic and critical of my country, because Americans are unfortunately known for being the biggest hypocrites. We champion human rights but don’t speak up for Rohingya Muslims who are being slaughtered in Myanmar. We pat ourselves on the back on the anniversary of Juneteenth, but we refuse to admit that we are customers of companies notorious for human trafficking. We take pride in the 13th Amendment but continue to imprison colored people and make them labor for us in jail. We love our guns but are hesitant to help mental health patients who could potentially inflict harm on others.
America has its faults- numerous faults. But we have the luxury to change things. When I take time to look around, I realize how lucky we are. We are lucky enough to love our country so much that we can criticize it. We have the luxury to fight for it. We live in a country where we can demand our elected leaders to respect all citizens. In America, no one’s voice can be silenced. In this country, we can march for gender equality, an end to police brutality, and policy action to combat climate change. In this country, I can write my thoughts freely, pray to Allah, pursue higher education, and donate to support a coalition of organizations that work throughout the US to provide services to immigrants, refugees, and asylees (https://prizeo.com/r/yaccfc).
I will forever be honored to be an American. I am one by birth, but everyone around me (my best friend who was born in Burma and currently works three jobs to pay for college, my dad who immigrated here from Bangladesh right after graduating high school, my 11-year-old cousin who wants to be the leader of the free world one day, and my mom who went to go see fireworks even with her broken wrist) is just as American as I am.
I see so much beauty around me. I am surrounded by people from so many cultures with so many dreams, all taking part in this great American experiment of ours. There is beauty in the struggle and in the resistance required of us as Americans. Let’s do right by the words written in those bold, cursive letters on that July day. Let’s do right by every American who has come before us.
Can you believe that we’ve come full circle? In those July days, the founders in that sweaty room in Philadelphia (a room I’ve stepped foot in) were bold enough to draft a formal list of complaints and grievances against a tyrannical king. In these July days, we are seeing profound resistance to our current administration, one that can be deemed unjust and unfair in many ways. The founders, revolutionaries of the heart, came out on top. If history taught us anything, it’s that we are in trying times and radical times. We are changemakers. I sit here now in anticipation of the inevitable change we will enact, together as Americans, to better our beloved country and in effect, our shared world.
March on, my fellow country people.
This article was also published on Medium:
Stay tuned for a special post featuring community testimonials about Islamophobia coming soon!
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Americans often think that racial issues no longer exist in the US after the abolition of slavery or after the end of Jim Crow. The reality is that they exist and they persist. I've been wanting to write about this issue for a while now, especially after watching the difficult and enlightening documentary, 13th (I highly recommend you to watch it). I thought that there was no better day to write about racial justice than on MLK Day, a day that celebrates the profound legacy of the civil rights warrior.
In his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. King said "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Well let me tell you- there is injustice, and you should be concerned. When black people are being pulled over or shot just because of their skin color, you can't tell me that racism does not exist. When 1/3 of black men in the US will go to prison if our trend of mass incarceration continues, you can't tell me that our prison industrial complex isn't a race problem. Black people face blunt and outright discrimination because of what they look like. This can be seen in our justice system, hiring methods, schools, and in many more areas of societal development.
When we honor Dr. King today, we should remember his warnings against complacency and his applauds for nonviolent protest. We should remember the causes he died serving. We should remember his committed fight for justice.
I understand that I am not black and therefore don't struggle with the constant fear of being subjugated or looked down upon or threatened because of the color of my skin, but that doesn't mean I can't care about black people. I understand that I will never fully understand the black experience, but that doesn't mean I can't sympathize with black people and try to help them.
My plea to you is to look inside of yourself, acknowledge any racial bias you have, and suppress those misconceptions. My plea to you is to care about injustice, even if it doesn't directly affect you. My plea to you is to fight for the eradication of oppression. My plea to you is to care about your world and the people who share it.
Explore the resources below. MLK Day isn't a day off. It's a day when you should take time to educate yourself about race relations in the US and the words of MLK.
Speeches of MLK:
Read my Black Lives Matter post and explore the links I put there about racism, not just as it relates to MLK.
I put some inspiring and eye-opening videos below. John and Hank Green also created this cool playlist about Racism and Race: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMs_JcuNozJb-5TJ3uuvqPzQVjO_XarED
To my refugee and immigrant friends, I want you to know how much I love, appreciate, and admire you.
My heart is breaking right now for Aleppo, especially for the children and families who will now become displaced. I am ashamed that the US and countries around the world aren't doing more to assure the safe passage of Aleppo residents out of their city. I am ashamed that xenophobia causes people to fear their fellow humans, who are suffering without homes and proper resources.
I encourage you to do research and find out how you can help. The least we can do right now is show a refugee the love they deserve. Go volunteer at your local refugee services organization, donate to help the children of Syria, and call on your representatives to demand change.
Complacency is dangerous. Being a bystander is dangerous. Please do something for those wondering if they will wake up tomorrow.
I did some of my own research and found these reputable charities. There is no greater gift than the feeling of positively impacting someone's life:
I also gathered some articles for those of you who want more information about what is going on:
Demand action! https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/demand-safe-evacuation-of-people-from-east-aleppo/
My fellow Texans, please consider getting involved in the Refugee Services of Texas! They do amazing work. You can be directly involved with helping someone feel welcomed to the US through mentorship, apartment setups, airport greetings, etc. http://www.rstx.org/
I pray the world stops ignoring these horrid events.
Our shared humanity
Is what connects us
And allows us to empathize
Despite our differences.
Fight for your own human rights
And help end violations of others' rights.
Care for your fellow humans
For we are all made of the same earth
And we will all return to it.
The beauty of our fundamental rights
Is that they allow us to dream and to hope.
Because of them, we are all equal
And we are all free
And we can all be who we want to be.
Human Rights Day, which is every 10th of December, commemorates the day, in 1948, on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is essential for you to know what your rights are before you can fight to protect them or help end the violation of others' rights. Read and familiarize yourself with them here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
Also, for those of you who don't know, I am currently involved in my school's Human Rights Forum. It is an organization I am beyond proud to be a part of. Join our journey of inspiring a shared sense of humanity here: http://humanrightsforum.weebly.com
I have much to be thankful for.
A home where I can be safe and be myself,
A school that gives me countless opportunities to grow as a student,
A group of friends that only want the best for me,
And a family that supports all of my dreams.
Today, as we gather around full plates of food with our families,
Let us keep in mind those who don't get to stuff their tummies,
And those who can't spend time with loved ones.
We take so many of these moments for granted,
But we should never stop being grateful
For our lives filled with love and laughter.
Let us always strive to spread joy to others.
I’ve woken up for the past eight years, regardless of what was going on in my personal life, proud to be an American. For my childhood and most of my adolescence, I have had the honor of watching a gracious man lead my country. The fact that he is black does not go over my head. I think about it often and I cry tears of joy when thinking about it. To him, I am grateful, as we all should be.
I cried myself to sleep the night of the election. I woke up the next morning still not truly believing what happened and not wanting to believe it. It’s been a tough few days, but I am starting to heal. I’ve decided that my pain and my tears and my anger and my fear will only be justified if I act on them. I will hold my head up high and continue fighting for what I believe in, as Hillary Clinton told me to do. She said that fighting for what’s right is always worth it, and I take her word for it. I am a teenage girl who lives in a country where less than 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote. In this presidential election, a woman won the popular vote. To me, that is historic. That is the one part of this election that I am beyond proud of.
Somehow, this country, one that other nations look to as a beacon of progress, has made it uniquely difficult for a woman to become President. It hurts me to say that we have not broken that glass ceiling yet. To the women and girls in my life, I want you to know that you are important. Don’t be discouraged. Go out there and show the world how powerful and intelligent and strong you are. Don’t ever let anyone treat you with anything less than dignity and the utmost respect. I also want you to know that your dreams are never too big.
The election is over. There is nothing that can be done about the results. Even if we have lumps forming in our throats and tears forming in our eyes, we must accept it. I have taken these results as a sign that this country is divided and needs serious healing. This can only be done if we continue fighting for what is right.
I am a Bangladeshi Muslim American. The President-elect has said many horrific things about people of my faith. He’s said even worse things about other groups of people. For us, I am scared. I am fearful of the racism, bigotry, Islamophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia that seems to be growing right now. My heart breaks for my country. I pray that we move forward towards progress. Hatred is never the answer and will only divide us further.
I am proud to see my countrymen and countrywomen fighting for their beliefs and using their freedoms of opinion and assembly through peaceful protests. I hope that this solidarity will strengthen our core values of advocating for justice, openness, and acceptance.
Hear our pain and listen to our fear. We are numb. Healing will take time, and it might take longer than four years. Our fear needs to be heard before we can be unified. Yes, we are stronger together. That means valuing everyone’s fundamental human rights. It means compromising without threatening our very humanity.
This election has taught me the tough lesson that things will not always go as planned. Sometimes, the result may feel like a punch in the face. Yes, I am in pain. Yes, I am in shock. Yes, I am in despair. I am doing my best not to lose faith in this country. I am trying to fathom why so many people voted for someone who has helped perpetuate hatred. I expected this election to go very differently since it was one deeply rooted in moral values and human decency. I was terribly wrong and for that, I am hurting.
The Quran tells me “verily, with every hardship, [there will be] ease.” I will ride this wave, but I won't ever stop fighting. My passion for the protection of my values and my rights grows stronger every day. And at the end of the day, it will be worth it.
I ask you to spread love to those around you and to always remember that all human beings are precious.
(Also, I am honored to have been quoted in an Associated Press article about youth responses to the election. Read it here: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/54c1e8e62e904ff3a64462825880974d/some-children-fearful-what-trump-presidency-will-mean)
Inspiring social media posts:
My favorite tweet quoted here (sorry for the kinda vulgar language):
“May the election of Trump bring forth the fiercest, smartest, toughest generation of ass-kicking women this country could possibly imagine.” - Jeffrey Wright
I am writing this more for myself than for anyone else. I want to hold my accomplishments, goals, and dreams in the future accountable to what my seventeen-and-a-half-year-old self would think of them.
I am a daughter, friend, student, and aspiring human rights activist. In my life, I hope to spread love, openness, and acceptance. I also hope to end misconceptions and stereotypes.
When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up, they are expecting to hear “doctor” or “engineer”. I don’t usually answer with “human rights activist”. This is because if I did answer with that, I would get raised eyebrows in return. In their heads, the people would be thinking “is that even a real job?”, “will she even be making money?” Sometimes if I am feeling bold, I tell them what I am planning on majoring in instead: “international relations”, a term they are more comfortable hearing.
So why am I not becoming a doctor or an engineer, or going into a STEM field? It’s simple, really. I am not looking for a job that will make me rich. I want to help people. Although I don’t yet know what form or title that career will take, I know that I want to focus on human rights. But doctors, engineers, computer scientists, and nurses are important people that society needs. To anyone pursuing those careers, I applaud you. I’ve chosen this path myself. I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who will cheer me on in anything I want to do. I am lucky enough to have parents who encourage me to fulfill my own dreams, instead of wanting me to achieve the goals they themselves never could. I am lucky enough to have parents who have gotten over the Bengali notion that “if your child is not a doctor or engineer, they will get nowhere in life.”
To anyone concerned about my future, I concede that it will probably be tough for me to get a job, and once I do, it won’t pay very well. I will probably live in an apartment for most of my adult life and there may be days when I don’t have enough to eat. I am mentally preparing myself for these struggles. I am willing to pay the price.
When I was little I wanted to be a scientist because I thought a bubbling test tube looked cool. Then I went through an artist phase (I am still a wannabe artist to this day). For a long time, I was convinced that I was going to become a prosecuting lawyer to follow in the footsteps of my maternal grandfather. All of this changed when I watched a documentary titled “Girl Rising.” My school’s Human Rights Forum was hosting a film screening for it and I decided to go (and I am so glad that I did). After hearing the stories of girls who had unlimited opportunities before them only because of their access to education, I was inspired. After watching the film and seeing students work in this school organization, I knew I had to get involved. This was the day that I subconsciously filed the words “human rights activist” under my life goals. This was the day I realized that I should be doing so much more for this world.
I’ve grown up hearing my parents constantly remind me to “be a good Muslim and student, but be an even better person.” These are the words that I hear in my head every second of every day. To me, being a good person means helping others. Being happy with my life as a middle-class citizen in the United States, is being complacent. Caring about others should be my first priority. You and I, we are very fortunate people. We complain about it being too hot outside, only to come home to central air conditioning. We complain about having to buy more toilet paper, only to come home to a functional and sanitary toilet. There are people in this world less lucky than us. There are people in this world scavenging through trash cans to feed their children. There are girls in this world who stay at home and aren’t able to go to school, while I get to go to school for free. There are people in this world who don’t know if they will live to see another day. Thinking about them, I feel guilty.
My journey will certainly be a hard one. I know that I will encounter people with rapidly different opinions than mine. I hope that I never compromise my own values and beliefs. I know that not everyone is as passionate about these issues as I am. It hurts to admit it, but I get it.
Dear future self, don’t ever doubt your life’s purpose. Know that even if you’ve changed ONE heart and mind, it will have been worth it. Quality over quantity. Mind over matter.
In the words of the champ, Muhammad Ali, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” I hope that like him, my rent will be paid in full by the time I leave this Earth.
Contrary to popular belief, feminism does not mean women above men. Feminism is equality. It's not about dominance. It's not about overpowering. Being a feminist should be the same as being a human. If you support the equality of all people regardless of their gender, then you are a feminist. Period. The issue is that there are many who call themselves feminists but they support the notion that "girls rule the world." These people are known as misandrists who think women are better than men and that all men are evil. This is simply not true and shouldn't be applauded. A feminist is someone who supports and advocates for the equality of men and women in all aspects of society. If you are a feminist, then by definition, you should not support patriarchies OR matriarchies. I think that feminism is one of the most important social movements we have and I believe, in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that “we should all be feminists.”
Women have always been essential to societal progress. In the US, the earliest feminist roots are from 1776 when Abigail Adams reminded her husband, John Adams to “remember the ladies” when fighting for America’s independence from Great Britain. Jane Addams helped immigrants and impoverished peoples gain access to necessities and resources by organizing settlement housing, or more specifically, by founding Hull House in 1889. If not for the work of Carrie Chapman Catt in lobbying Congress to pass the 19th Amendment in 1919, women would still not have the right to vote. Reproductive rights aren’t anything new either. The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade asserted that a woman should get the right to choose. More recently, like a few weeks ago, there was another SCOTUS ruling that asserted the right to abortion clinics being open in Texas. Have we truly progressed in gender equality here in the States? I say we have. I mean look at Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first ever female presumptive presidential nominee of a major party in US history. That is progress. But the work isn’t finished. We are so far from equality.
How do we compare to other countries? Well in comparison to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan, we've come a long way. In Saudi Arabia, some women get acid thrown in their face and there are VERY strict gender roles. In Iran, many women are not allowed to attend colleges or universities for higher education. In Afghanistan, a certain Nobel Peace Prize winning (not at the time) teenage girl was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. On the other hand, we are far behind Iceland, Norway, and Sweden in terms of gender pay equity and women in top leadership positions. Equal pay for equal work. This is just plain old common sense, so I won’t elaborate. More women should be in leadership positions. We need to get over this stereotype that men are always bosses.
It is primitive to think of women being inferior to men. In the days of hunter-gatherers, before permanent settlements, strength was the most important trait a person could have because strength meant you could survive longer. Men were the leaders of communities because in basic biology, men are physically stronger than women. It made sense then that women did the less physically demanding jobs of gathering foods while the men hunted for sources of meat.
But now we live in a society in which strength is not the most important trait a person can have. Intelligence and creativity are so much more important and valuable. And I will argue that women are equal to and many times even better than men when it comes to having these traits. In fact, it is scientifically proven that women mature faster than men. Yet, men are more commonly given leadership positions, while women are left with the “lowly” jobs. Gender roles are apparent in work: women have the social service jobs — teaching, because it is in their “social sphere” since they are accustomed to raising children. Men are expected to have careers in STEM fields and to love cars and sports.
Marriage is not the most important event in a woman’s life. A married woman is no more competent in society than a single woman. We need to stop teaching our daughters that one day they need a spouse to lean on, to depend on. We should be teaching them to be independent. They can take care of themselves. If marriage is something they want to pursue in life, it is their choice. Not their parents’ and not anyone else’s. Dear parents, your daughters do not exist to give you grandchildren. If a young girl decides early on in life that she doesn’t want to get married, then you cannot and should not force a marriage on her. Don’t even get me started on arranged marriages. My family comes from a country in which until a couple of decades ago, love marriages didn’t exist or were reprimanded. It wasn’t unheard of for a son or daughter to get disowned from his/her family because they chose who they were going to marry themselves.
I’ve learned from experience that changing how people see gender roles is difficult because everyone has their own definition of sexism. This is because of the way people are raised. To my grandparents, arranged marriages aren’t as horrible as they are to me. To me, it is sexist to be expected to know how to make the bed or clean the house because I am a woman, but to my mom, these are the skills she grew up believing were women’s jobs. For my grandma and my mom, it was not ever an option for them to go to college and get professional careers. They grew up believing that only men could aspire to earn those high paying jobs. They grew up aspiring to be house wives, nothing more. So often, young girls cannot have dreams or aspirations. They don’t get the chance to go to school or to learn to read or write. Education is a human right. Access to basic schooling is denied from so many girls around the world. For these reasons, they stay at home, learning how to be the best wives like their mothers and grandmothers. They stay inside. They stay neglected from opportunities.
So what is the solution towards a society in which people are truly equal, regardless of their gender? Education. To me, it seems like education is the most permanent solution to so many of today’s issues. We must teach, rear, and raise our children to seeing everyone as equal. Parents should teach their sons about how to do housework: basic cleaning and cooking. Why is it expected that only the daughters should know how to nourish themselves and why are the daughters expected to learn to cook for everyone else? The irony is that even in the "female" domain of cooking, men have the highest-paid positions and most well-known names. When men decide to cook, it is seen as somehow exceptional, while all women everywhere are expected to be good cooks innately and get little recognition for all the other work they do to care for their families.
Women are not domestic, fragile, weak creatures that can be objectified and discriminated against. They’re humans who deserve dignity and respect. We should teach boys and men to look at women as equals, because they are! We should teach all of our children to dream and to hope, not just our sons.
Nowadays, overt discrimination is no longer such a commonplace issue; however, implicit bias still is, and it’s a dangerous problem because changing buried perceptions is hard. Internalized and unconscious misogyny effect how men perceive women and girls. Whether they know it or not, men are constantly expecting women to do their work for them. They expect their mother to do the laundry and to cook breakfast. They expect their wife to dress nicely. They expect their daughter to be gentle and soft spoken. More often than not, many of my teachers, male and female, have treated my classmates and me differently based on gender. When a male student raises his hand and asks a question, the teacher is more likely to make eye contact. In math and science classes, the environment is such that my boy classmates are more likely to speak up, while in my humanities and arts classes, the girls are more likely to speak up. When answering a question from a girl, teachers are more likely to use soft and gentle tones, while using louder voices to speak to boys. Honestly, even women treat themselves poorly. They feel like they have to be private about the menstrual cycle or breastfeeding. Be proud of what makes you a woman. Heck, my mom breast-fed me in public, on top of the Eiffel Tower, when I was less than two years old. We should be able to talk about pads and tampons without being secretive and clandestine, because frankly, they’re as much of a biological necessity as toilet paper.
Society’s double standards don’t help either. Women are expected to fit society’s idea of “beautiful”. Women are judged if they aren’t thin. They’re judged if their hair isn’t styled. They’re judged if they have one blemish on their face. They’re judged if they aren’t wearing makeup. Men aren’t expected to be “pretty”. In fact, if a man does wear a little makeup or put on some nail polish, he is called “feminine”. Men are always expected to be “masculine”, tough, and strong-willed.
I end with the words of a leader whom I will miss terribly when he leaves office, President Obama: “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive; that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to change the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality but gives men a pat on the back for theirs. We need to change an internet where women are routinely harassed and threatened when they go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads, [and] penalizes working moms. We need to keep changing the attitude that prioritizes being confident and ambitious in the workplace — unless you’re a woman. We need to keep changing the culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color.”
How will we truly progress towards a better future if that future is decided in rooms where women aren’t allowed and if half of the world's people are still seen as inferior?
We’ve got work to do. According to the Global Gender Gap report, at this rate, it will take 170 years to fully achieve gender equality. I don’t know about you, but I am being an optimist and hoping that it doesn’t take that long.