Combating discrimination by listening, educating, and understanding

Our president is black. Miss America 2014 is Indian. America surely must be far advanced from the racial tensions of the fifties and sixties, right?

On the Fiftieth Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, there remain mixed opinions about how far we have come as a country. Are we really much better than we were fifty years ago when groups of African-Americans were burned by cigarettes and doused with condiments during the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement? American citizens of all ethnicities and religions continue to be subjected to ethnic discrimination regardless of how many generations their families have lived in America. Simply because these American citizens are of different skin tone, religious practice, or accent, they are consistently scrutinized, demoralized, and objectified by other American citizens.

Yet, racism is not the only "ism" that plays a role in our emotionally segregated communities. Sexism, ageism, religionism, classism, and countless other types of discrimination affect almost everything we do as American citizens. Do we really think we are better than others? Or is this just something that has developed into our "American Culture?" The negative connotations that surround an "ism" will always hold some truth to them. Do things like racism and religionism really serve any benefit to our great and powerful nation?

Ali H. ElmokdadLourdes University student, Ali H. Elmokdad (pictured right), considers racism to be defined by when someone believes they are a racial superior. Furthermore, he feels that discrimination can occur in many ways, whether that is in terms of beliefs, religion, or nationality. Elmokdad was born and raised in Lebanon, but moved to the United States when he was eleven years old. He and his family are devout Muslims and reside in the Sylvania area. Elmokdad speaks to many Lourdes University classes about Arab and Muslim culture, in addition to working with the Arab Student Union at the University of Toledo, and serving as President of the Lourdes Arab American Student Association.

Unfortunately, Elmokdad and his family have experienced multiple acts of racism in the Sylvania area. Because Elmokdad's mother chooses to wear the hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women, his family is quick to be targeted. Elmokdad recalls multiple incidents at local grocery stores and even while driving where people have gone out of their way to make terribly hurtful comments.

"My mother was hurt. Who would think that we still have to face these issues in this beautiful country?" Elmokdad pleads, while describing an incident where his mother was confronted about her hijab in the grocery store. "I know why people make racist comments. People don't know the religion of Islam and how peaceful it is. They get these ideas from social network sources that Muslims hate Western culture. This is untrue. I was born and raised in Lebanon, yes, but I am an American citizen. This is my home."

On a national level, Elmokdad firmly believes that we have a problem with racism.

"This country was built on the idea of equality and freedom, but we do have a problem. We have a lot of racist people in this country. White against black. Black against white. It does exist, and it is a sad thing that in such a country we have to deal with such issues and face such people," he states.

And not only do acts of racism affect reputations on the personal level, they also affect the reputations of whole communities. "You will always have the idea in your head about this is what happened here," Elmokdad adds.

Yet, the Lourdes University community has something to be proud of. Even though acts of racism occur daily just around the corner in the Toledo area, Elmokdad states that he has never felt unwelcome as a Muslim student in a Catholic school. "Lourdes is a culture and everyone belongs to that culture," he adds.

When asked if he had anything to say to his community, Elmokdad is quick to state, "You don't have to be a racist to love your faith, culture, beliefs, and race. You can be dedicated to your beliefs and honor your race, but that should not make you value your own beliefs over others. What makes us any different from others?"

Assistant Professor of Theological studies Peter Sibilio, Ph.D., has spoken at many conferences regarding the similarities between Christianity and Islam. In one of his most recent speeches he draws attention to an important idea from Pope Benedict XVI.

"Then-Father Joseph Ratzinger, when he was just a humble theology teacher, long before he became Cardinal, said, 'We are no longer ready, willing, or able to think that our neighbors, who are decent and respectable and in many ways better than we are, should be eternally damned and lose salvation simply because they do not have Catholic stamped on their passport'," Sibilio states.

In many ways, this statement by Pope Benedict XVI can be applied to the acts of sexism, racism, and other assorted hate classifications that are unethically used today. Why must someone have Caucasian, mid-fifties, and white-collar class written on their entrance ticket to society? Are we not all from the same earth? Do we not all have equal pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness?

Furthermore, Sibilio draws attention to a statement by Catholic Theologian Hans Küng: "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among religions." Racism, sexism, ageism, religionism, or whatever your chosen "ism" is will do nothing but increase the miles away we are from world peace. And isn't world peace something so many of us want to witness at some point in our futures?

The easiest thing we as citizens can do to prevent these "isms" is actively listen and become educated. Just as Miss America 2014 was harassed on Twitter moments after her crowning for being "Arab" and "Al-Qaeda" when she has lived in the United States since birth, the best way to prevent these atrocities is to learn about the people around us. Get to know your African-American neighbor. Say hello to the Asian man sitting next to you at dinner. Admire the hijab of the Muslim woman at the grocery store. These acts, these types of love, are what will eventually bring a screeching halt to racism, religionism, and all the other segregating complexes. These simple acts are the kinds that will create a wave that starts with our community. And soon enough our waves will grow to create a powerful sea of equality and peace.