A skinny kid in a NASA T-shirt.
Ahmed Mohamed could be any one of the kids in my daughter’s engineering class. Looking at his smooth, childish face, I wonder how any police officer could think he should be handcuffed.
He’s almost a cliché of boyish innocence, the antithesis of a threat to anyone.
And as the mother of a 14-year-old student who also proclaims herself to be an engineering geek, I wonder if she could also be in danger of having a school project mistaken for a bomb.
But only briefly. My daughter’s white, and she’s a girl. Her biggest worry is that her classmates think she’s a clueless chick because she has teal-colored hair. There’s almost no chance the police would ever cuff her.
She’s outraged at the news that Ahmed was arrested and suspended for bringing his home-made clock to school. The boy says his English teacher reported him — a teacher who was supposed to be caring for her students, encouraging curiosity and experimentation.
"When I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her," Ahmed said. "It was really sad she took a wrong impression of it."
It’s that aspect that most offends my daughter, who’s lucky enough to be attending a magnet program for students keen on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects in our quiet Washington, D.C. suburb. “How could a teacher turn him in?” she demands, outraged.
She doesn’t see Ahmed as someone different from her. She sees him as one of her own. She wears NASA t-shirts, too. Two weeks into ninth grade, she’s working on making model airplanes and scouring the basement for scraps to use for other engineering projects.
Our country needs more kids to pursue STEM careers. It’s a major objective of President Barack Obama’s White House, and it’s far from being a partisan issue. Obama leapt at the chance to invite Ahmed to the White House and he piled on to the #IStandWithAhmed social media campaign.
I think it’s fair to say Ahmed’s future is looking rosier now. But this still should never have happened.
Friends on social media blame Texas, but that makes them every bit as guilty of over-generalization and outright prejudice as the teachers and law enforcement officials who profiled Ahmed as a brown-skinned Muslim.
My daughter blamed Texas, too, and she eyed me skeptically as I tried to explain to her that bigotry is bigotry and that anyway, she has close relatives all over that state. Texans aren’t all prejudiced, Muslims aren’t all terrorists and America isn’t a hotbed of hate.
And times do change.
She’ll never know the chauvinism that used to keep girls out of advanced math classes and women out of engineering careers. And I can only be glad that as my daughter stands on the shoulders of women who fought for equal rights, she is standing shoulder to shoulder with the kids like Ahmed.