Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old student at a Dallas-area school, enjoys working with electronics in his spare time. After starting his new school in Irving, Texas, he thought that if he brought a homemade clock to show his teachers, they’d be impressed.
In fact, his engineering teacher he showed it to thought it was nice but advised him to not show it to anyone else. And the reason soon became apparent — another teacher he showed it to informed him that it looked like a bomb, confiscated it and called the police. Mohamed was questioned by officers, never straying from the fact that he made a clock, and was eventually led from the school in handcuffs in front of his peers while wearing a NASA shirt.
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed's sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt! pic.twitter.com/nR4gt992gB
— Anil Dash 🥭 (@anildash) September 16, 2015
Despite the notion that if he had really intended it to look like a bomb, he likely wouldn’t have taken it to two different teachers and told them — told them! — it was a homemade clock, the idea that this obviously brilliant kid was racially profiled is mind-boggling. The fact that his teachers looked at him and his homemade electronic device and immediately thought “bomb” is a sad, sick statement on the mindset of many.
Irving, Texas, is a pretty racially diverse locale, with only around 30 percent of its population of over 200,000 ticking the “white, non-Hispanic” option on the city’s census forms. But apparently it’s not diverse enough that people don’t take one look at a brown boy with a Muslim name toting an electronic device and start phoning the police right away. Of course, we cannot know in retrospect what the reaction might have been to a Caucasian teenager bringing in a similar device, but it’s easy to guess that “OMG bomb” might not have been the first thought to cross an instructor’s mind when she saw it.
Racial profiling isn’t just something that is done to people driving cars (which is distressing enough), like many people seem to believe. It’s even more distressing that our kids — our innocent, brilliant, inventing, electronics-loving kids — can be profiled, arrested and suspended from school because of how they look. This type of experience can stifle curiosity, ambition and drive, because kids are afraid of being targeted by authorities due to their race, culture or other factors, and while Mohamed has said he’ll never bring a homemade device to school again, we have to wonder what else he will never do again in school — speak out, volunteer in front of the classroom or work on electronics projects in his spare time?
We can, and should, do better. And if the support he and his family have received on Twitter are any indication, most of us are firmly on the teen’s side, where we should be. Even President Barack Obama is backing him up!
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS44) September 16, 2015