Week of the Peacemaker

Tonight, I write from Iona College, a small college founded by Christian Brothers in New Rochelle.  Dr. Teresa Delgado invited me as part of Iona’s Week of the Peacemaker “Advocacy: Speaking out for Justice” — a series of talks, films, and teach-ins that inform and inspire college students to advocate for justice.

We just screened Divided We Fall for 50 college students, followed by an intimate discussion about the ways in which 9/11 still claims us.

Students began by sharing memories of the terrorist attacks: one student almost lost her uncle, another saw the towers burning.  They were only children when it happened, and yet they’ve carried the feeling of vulnerability through the years.  Then students observed the resurgence of anti-Muslim violence around the debate over Park51 and the ways in which racism works in their lives today.

One student said that whenever he sees Muslims or Sikhs at airports or train stations, his automatic thought is “terrorist.”  Even ten years after 9/11, the image of our enemy — the turbaned bearded “Muslim” terrorist — is still deeply embedded in our social landscape and becomes triggered in public places, especially after more terrorist attacks abroad or arrests of terrorist suspects at home.

But the “Muslim terrorist” stereotype is just one in an army. An administrator remembers eating with his family at a restaurant in an urban neighborhood. His brother wanted to leave quickly, because he felt danger all around him.  Why? Most of the people in the restaurant were black, i.e. “criminal.”

“Why didn’t you have the same reaction as your brother?” I asked.

“In higher education, I’m exposed to diversity — and I get to hear a lot of stories.”

Courageously listening to other peoples’ stories can help us dislodge the stereotypes that seek to work their way into our bodies, hearts, and minds.  This is why, even after four years, it’s still a treat to share Divided We Fall with new audiences.  I get to tag along and watch the film tell a still-untold story — even as it emboldens others to tell their own.