Enduring 9/11 anniversaries as Middle Eastern student

Being singled out teaches different lesson

Leda Abkenari, Acalanes High School

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States met tragedy. Four coordinated attacks by the Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, ended the lives of 2,977 Americans. And while this day affected the lives of every American, it forever changed the lives of every Middle Eastern American.

The yearly anniversary of this tragedy is commemorated across America. Individuals often begin their day with a moment of silence, while in many classrooms, this day is dedicated to an entire lesson.

My earliest understanding of this day occurred in classrooms on its anniversary. While my teachers lectured and played videos about the tragedy that struck the U.S., the end of the lesson was always turned back onto myself — and not by choice. 

Teachers would single me out to speak about this event and how it affected my family and me. This most recently happened in a high school history course. 

After my teacher had finished the lesson commemorating 9/11, the classroom went quiet. The silence ended abruptly by the teacher singling me out and saying, “I notice you’re Middle Eastern.” I was shocked. He continued, saying, “Your parents were probably beaten and spit on after this occurred, right?” I was singled out in front of my peers and was met with microaggressions along with the assumption of my race.

While this left me without words, it was not the first time I had been associated with a lesson about 9/11. Each year, I would unwillingly become “teacher” as my administrators relied on me to be the best source of information about an event that occurred before I was born. The microaggressions of my teachers only encouraged the ones I faced outside of class from my peers: People called me racist nicknames that associated me with the act of terrorism.

As 9/11 neared each year, I grew to expect the events that I would face in my classrooms. 9/11 became the only time teachers asked me to speak about something that was remotely my “culture” and the only time I remember being taught about the Middle East.

The teachings were never about the beauty of the Middle East or its enriching culture — they always depicted savagery. The world history that I had been taught my entire life has been white history, and it glorified and beautified white supremacy. While 9/11 affected millions, it shouldn’t be the only time the Middle East is mentioned in classrooms.

Schools and districts in the U.S. harbor biases that affect me and all students of color, and that in turn changes the education for every student. All students deserve a curriculum that represents every culture and race truthfully, a curriculum that highlights both the beauties and mistakes made. When we send children to school to learn about world history, the curriculum should reflect the name of the course.