What We Can Do

by Atteeyah Hollie | 11/5/01 6:00am

Upon learning of the backlash against people who resemble our stereotypical image of a Muslim, many students across the country have wondered, "What can we do? How can we support those who are coming under attack or are in fear?"

The terrorist attacks on the United States have instilled all of us with a new fear. But while our recent concerns and desire to stop attacks on brown-skinned people are noble, we must remember that bigotry, hatred and racist violence are not new to Dartmouth's campus, nor to the United States and the world.

Two days after this term began, an Ohio court acquitted Stephen Roach, a white police officer, of fatally shooting Timothy Thomas, an unarmed, black 19-year-old -- he was the 15th black man to die by the guns of the Cincinnati police force in six years. Yet this was a story that newspapers across the country devoted little space to discussing.

Three months ago, a Texas court found a rancher guilty of killing Eusebio de Haro, a Mexican trying to cross the border, for being on his property to ask for food and water, but sentenced him to only 180 days probation.

The beautifully rural state of New Hampshire is not immune to these problems either. This past August, a 35-year-old white man from the town of Newmarket was charged with the murder of a 62-year-old neighbor, Thung Phetakoune. The grand jury charged that racism motivated the attack, citing the accused's statements to police. "Those Asians killed my brother and uncle in Vietnam; call it payback," police said the man told them. "If you're not going to do anything about these Asians in my country, then I will." He allegedly pushed the unarmed Phetakoune, causing him to fall and fatally injure his head. Ironically, Phetakoune, a Laotian immigrant, fought for the Americans during the Vietnam War.

And recently, a mother and her daughter in Manchester, N.H., were charged with elbowing and threatening to beat their Muslim neighbor, whom they accused of being a terrorist. Fatima Deek said one of the attackers pushed her body against Deek's and started insulting her "with the most horrible words, such as Muslims never shower, go take a shower, go wash your underwear, terrorist ... Middle East trash" and other vulgarities, the Union Leader reported. Deek, a mother of four, told her to stay away from her and her family.

"If I don't, what are you going to do? Put anthrax powder in my house? Ha ha, terrorist," the woman answered. Later that night, the other woman threatened to tear Deek apart, taunting, "You are the terrorist, and I'm going to get you." Deek was pushed down a flight of stairs the next evening, and one of the attackers allowed her dog to jump on her back.

These events may seem horrifying to you, but they are nothing new. On our own campus, we have seen our black community mocked in the form of a "ghetto party," in which some students attending a fraternity party dressed up in their own images of what being ghetto was, with some students wearing afros as part of their costume. We have also heard of swastikas being drawn on students' doors.

We continue to walk past students on our campus who see no problem with wearing Native American caricatures on their clothing. What do we say in these cases? Do we stand up and ask, "What can we do?" No, we accept them as part of our Dartmouth experience, dismissing anyone who stands up against these acts as "too sensitive." Would it be acceptable if our fellow students wore a derogatory image of a Jewish person on their backs?

We as Dartmouth students need to take what we learn in our classes and apply them to our lives. What happens around the country affects us, no matter what race, class, religion or sexual orientation we are. We cannot continue to pick and choose what affects our lives and what we are willing to stand up against.

During these times of crisis, we need to especially question what we read in our newspapers and see on television, because that is from where we, as Americans, can subconsciously learn hatred for Muslims and anyone who fits our mental picture of what a Muslim looks like.

Nor can we decide that we now have to "do something" to help those who are under attack when we have consistently ignored attacks on people who are used to it. Now is a time to examine our country, and ourselves. What U.S. policies are in place that allow violence against people to occur? Why are racism, sexism, homophobia so prevalent, particularly in America? It is only when we answer these questions that we'll be able to answer the question, "What can we do?"