COMSTOCK: A wrinkle in time

Caroline Comstock

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The United States of America. The land of prosperity. The land of opportunity. That is, unless you happen to be a young Muslim student at a Texas high school bringing a “clock” to school. Suddenly, the land of opportunity becomes a juvenile detention center, complete with handcuffs. It’s a captivating story of injustice. It’s an even better story when the media omits the most relevant element: Ahmed Mohamed’s “clock” looked exactly like a suitcase bomb.

Did the “clock” warrant handcuffs? No. Was it necessary to bring Ahmed to a juvenile detention center? No. Was the teacher out of line for perceiving a metal box with multiple wires as a potential threat to the rest of the student body? I don’t think so. But I seem to be in the minority on the issue after the #IStandWithAhmed movement went viral.

Unfortunately, it seemed like a lose-lose situation for the teacher: either become a social target for being prejudiced, or become a social target for not intervening if the clock turned out to be dangerous. There’s no telling which way the court of public opinion will rule. Only one thing is certain you don’t want to be on the court’s bad side.

The sad reality is that schools are no longer seen as the safe havens they’re supposed to be. After tragedies like Columbine, or more recently Sandy Hook, the most seemingly ridiculous safety measures don’t seem ridiculous anymore. That is true, until they offer up an opportunity for a storm of social media outrage. The public is hungry for a good PR crisis to announce their righteous viewpoints online. A tweet complete with #IStandWithAhmed serves as an RSVP to the social justice party where everyone wants to be.

Brands don’t want to be left off the guest list either. For those who haven’t been keeping up on Ahmed’s travels since the slight “wrinkle in time,” he’s been busy on his coast-to-coast tour of the U.S. thanks to generous donors, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft. What will making a contraption that could be mistaken for a bomb get you nowadays? In Ahmed’s case, an invitation to the Google science fair with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, an invitation from Mark Zuckerberg to visit Facebook headquarters, a visit to MIT, a visit to Harvard, an invitation to the U.N. Social Good Summit in New York with Queen Rania of Jordan, a personal invitation to the White House or a space camp scholarship (just to name a few). Take a look at the gear Microsoft gifted Ahmed if you’re short on gift ideas this holiday season. Apparently, Microsoft is starting the season early.

Is this a case of overt racism, or is this unfortunate situation a reflection of the sad state of perceived safety in schools? Many critics have asserted that Ahmed would not have been arrested or questioned if he were of a different religion and cultural upbringing. To that I would respond with this list of ridiculous reasons students have found themselves suspended from or barred from certain practices at school in recent years.

  1. Nine-year-old Grayson Bruce was banned from bringing his My Little Pony backpack to school as it would “trigger bullying.”
  2. Eleven-year-old Danny Valdes faced an in-school suspension after sporting a shaved haircut in the shape of the Miami Heat logo. School officials said it was gang-related and therefore distracting.
  3. Nine-year-old Kamryn Renfro was suspended for shaving her head to support her best friend going through chemotherapy. She was in violation of the dress code.
  4. An unnamed thirteen-year-old boy was handcuffed and brought to juvenile detention for burping audibly in class. He was suspended for the remainder of the school year.
  5. Nine-year-old Aiden Steward “threatened” to make another student “disappear” with his “one ring” from the Lord of the Rings series. He was suspended.

Schools are on the defensive all the time. Ahmed’s case has been no exception. It is particularly disturbing considering how increased school security measures clearly clashed with his creative drive; the irony is not lost. Whether he wanted it or not, Ahmed has become the brand ambassador for tech companies nationwide pushing their public relation agendas. Do we point fingers at the school or at the media that turned this issue into something it’s not?

The real issue is that the media framed this story exactly how the public wanted it to be: widespread prejudicial actions followed by a young boy’s valiant fight for vindication.

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