Campus Forum Addresses Racial Profiling, Prejudice

El Vaquero Staff Writer

More than 50 people who attended the forum “Racial Profiling: How It Affects Us All” on Nov. 14 got a chance to hear about the varied dangers of prejudice and discrimination.

Hosted by Richard Kamei, a GCC sociology instructor, the panel included Alexis Sales, a member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America; Robin Toma, Director of the L.A. County Human Relations Commission; Suzan Simaan, of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee; and Dan Tsang, a representative from the Alliance Working for Asian Rights and Empowerment (AWARE).

A striking fact, reported by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, was that 36,000 children all over the world were dying from starvation on Sept. 11, said Sales. He compared this tragedy with the terrorist attacks in order to show the lack of concern for problems that may be equally important as the new dose of reality we have now been injected with. “So I ask you which event is more tragic?” asked Sales.
Sales went on to say that on Sept. 10 donations to the Red Cross amounted to $1,000, but since the attacks $2 million has been given in support of the victims.

Toma discussed the “in-and-out group” phenomenon, in which groups of people with commonalities exclude those who are different.

The “out group”? she mentioned are the innocent Arab Americans, either Christian or Muslim, who were also killed in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. Arab Americans, “have had a double hit,” she said, which includes hate crimes and the loss of family and friends in New York.

Toma credits the political leaders of today, such as President George W. Bush and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, for reminding citizens not to vent their anger against innocent Americans of all races. Unfortunately however, this hasn’t stymied hate crimes, she said. Crimes against immigrants from the Middle East have escalated from 13 cases last year to 150 cases reported the three weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Before Sept. 11, racial profiling was mostly fueled by the war on drugs, but since then has been fanned by the war on terrorism, Sales said.
As a result, “non-Muslims were also caught up in this web of hate,” said Toma. Victims have included Sikh Americans, Armenians, and people of Middle Eastern and Southeastern Asian origin. Toma encouraged students to view Americans as a “mosaic of diverse cultures” in a country where cultural pride should be accepted along with a common sense of unity across ethnic lines.

The media has also been an instrument of racial prejudice by instilling negative stereotypes about Arab Americans and Muslims time and time again, said Simaan. She encouraged students to identify racism around them and to speak and act out against it.

Tsang shared an unusual experience with the students. He said he had sued the CIA for spying on him because of his employment by Covert Action Bulletin Information, an anti-spying magazine.

Tsang suggested that “?in a time of war, civil liberties become the first casualty” as the state increases its surveillance power. For example, he said, anyone from India who applies to come to the United States with a visa will have his records turned over to the FBI before he is allowed to enter.

Kamei said he was happy to see such good dialogue exchanged among the students.

“The meeting raised awareness and was productive afterwards,? said Michelle Mulrooney, a student who attended the forum. ?I got to exchange ideas with other students.”

Another student, Eboni Haynes, said, “We got an economic and personal view on the subject. But at what point do you say ‘Are you capable of committing a terrorist act?'”

?It was a good beginning and what we need more of is dialogue in order to share our fears and concerns rather than to speak about our issues separately,? said GCC student Maria Martinez.