Dr. Amer Ahmed was born in Springfield, Ohio to immigrant parents and has dedicated his life to assisting the communication between different cultures and encouraging diversity. In his talk to the Thacher community, Dr. Ahmed highlighted the disparity between actual Islamic culture and the stereotypes that surround it and talked about the origins and development of Islamophobia in the United States.
Mary Yan: Starting off, I thought your intro was super cool. The rap/spoken word was a great way to start the talk. So how did you get into this form of art and connect it to issues about Islamophobia?
Amer Ahmed: So hip hop was really popular when I was growing up. It was popular in my high school, it was popular in my community. It was just a part of growing up. Hip hop was a part of the experience. So for me, I wanted to be a part of it. So being a performer, being an MC was something I wanted to be a part of. As I grew older and started to get involved in diversity work, I didn’t want to give up that part of me and I still wanted to find way to incorporate it into what I do.
MY: On the note of growing up, how did you deal with the discrimination you faced about your religion while growing up?
AA: I feel like when I was younger the discrimination was more subtle. After 9/11 it became much more acute, a much more aggressive of an experience. So for me, I think part of it is I am from an immigrant family, and my family comes from real poverty, deep poverty, that despite whatever I was experiencing, I know that it’s nothing compared to what my family members have experienced, so I try to keep that in perspective. That helps me stay resilient, stay strong, while also making sure that I’m honoring my experience, that I’m still recognizing that it’s not okay the way we are treated.
MY: What would you say to the kids in the Thacher community and beyond that are dealing with discrimination against their religion?
AA: I would like to say that because I’ve had a long relationship with [Thacher’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion] Matt Balano, that I really think that he's an incredible resource who will be there to support them. He can be a bridge between them and whoever they might think is not understanding. He can facilitate some of the conversations we need to be having either with other students or with administration or with teachers or with whoever. I really believe he can be of great support.
MY: Alright, last question. What are some things that we can do as a community and as a school that can help combat Islamophobia?
Part of it is to get educated but part of it is to also get involved in efforts like the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Get involved in actions, whether it’s online or whether it’s in real life. And it helps when people are saying that the actions that they’re seeing are not okay. Just vocalize it, keep vocalizing it.Learn more about Thacher’s visiting scholars programs.