Carnegie Mellon University

"Am I a Terrorist?" by Shamanta Mostofa

Third Place for College Prose

I not only embody diversity, but am an advocate of teaching diversity. The fundamentals of equality and inclusiveness are hard to define. There are some who promote equality as a baseline reference: that we are all equals irrespective of our history, sex, gender identity, or background. But I believe celebrating equality through recognition in differences of positivism. I am a Bengali woman. I am an American woman. I am an educated woman. I am a student activist. I am an academic student. I am a researcher. I am a student worker. I am a daughter. I am a friend. I am Shamanta. I am Sam. And to some, I am a terrorist.

"Are you a terrorist?" asked my second grade librarian.

I fail to recall on how many occasions people have asked me those four words. Whether intended to be a lighthearted jest or a canny remark imbued with scorn, the effect is invariable. Shame and humiliation redden my cheeks. A nervous smile and blithe retort arrive at my lips. I busy myself with the nearest object, twiddling it back and forth between my thumbs—always remaining ill at ease. I have progressively come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to escape the perpetual cycle of that daunting word, constantly lurking in the shadows of my past, present, and future. After twenty-one years of questioning what or who a "terrorist" is, I realize now that I had allowed others to define who I was. Words are meaningless when it comes to character. I define myself through my own actions, my dreams, and my interests—not the stereotypical epitome of zeal and fervor.

Taken individually, each different aspect of my identity fulfills a certain niche or role in society. But diversity is not about dissecting roles and promoting individual identity rights, but rights that encompass a being in totality, a summation of his or her experiences and recognizing the intersection of aspects of our identity. Although I will never be able to recognize the hardships of certain groups through their lens, I will always fight for the rights they deserve through a humanistic lens. I have been committed to social justice work since I stepped on my campus, creating two clubs revolved around breaking the barriers of prejudice and institutionalized discrimination. Yet, even my own recognition of cultural competency of MY culture and the stigma associated with it does not expunge me from being ignorant to the pains of others. My freshman year of college, I used the word ‘ghetto’ callously to describe music, clothing, and behavior. I assumed the word was casual, funny even, and not tinged with racist derogatory connotations that deems people as feral, shiftless, and criminal all from one word. I thought my own position made me empathize with shared pain of discrimination, but what I was blinded by was that my pain is no more than someone else’s, and that I am still learning how to be cognizant of other histories and cultures. I am one to recognize my ignorance on issues and learn from it, and relentlessly seek to better myself and humanity through teaching tolerance and cultural intersectionality. An activist is one that can act as healer for all, and I strive to do so in all respects.

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