Science, Comics, and Racism: Do not Confuse Being Offended with Being Right

I think it is safe for anyone reading this blog to assume that I, the writer, am a nerd. In fact, it wouldn’t be an assumption because I clearly state in the page title that I am “Nerd and Proud.” It should come as no shock to you that I watch movies and TV shows about comic book characters; I have a mentioned binge-watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have written a whole post about Netflix’s Daredevil.  But I don’t limit myself to Marvel shows. I am an avid watcher of Arrow and The Flash, and I really enjoy the CW Seed’s Vixen (I hate that each ‘episode’ is only 5 minutes long).

The star of the show Arrow is Stephen Amell. For those who don’t know, he plays Oliver Queen. In comics, Oliver Queen is the alter ego of Green Arrow. The TV show is about Oliver’s journey to becoming Green Arrow. Stephen Amell does an excellent job portraying this character. But Stephen is also well-known for his social media presence. I follow him on Facebook and Twitter, and I have to say that, despite popular advice to “Never Read the Comments,” the comment sections for his posts tend to be very loving and polite.

I am also a nerd in the sense that I love science. I may have mentioned in earlier posts that I studied Physics at university. So stories about people with a passion for STEM definitely interest me.

Earlier this week, a 14-year-old boy named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for building his own alarm clock and taking it to school. His teacher mistook it for a bomb. This event occurred in Texas. If you want more details, Google it or go on social media; it’s trending.

The thing is, while plenty of high-profile people on social media have been using the #IStandWithAhmed tag to show support for the kid who was wrongly arrested, Stephen Amell did something different. He said:

“Stereotyping Texas isn’t any better than stereotyping Ahmed. Just so we’re clear.”*

This generated a lot of backlash. Yes, the people involved in Ahmed’s arrest may have acted wrongly. Yes, his arrest appeared to be steeped with racism. No, it is not okay to stereotype anyone. What Amell said seems fair. Is it detracting from the main story, as some people accuse? Perhaps. But is he wrong? No.

I am honestly shocked that something so small could generate so much hate. The problem with getting offended on the internet, of generating such backlash, is that very little investigation occurs. I have always been taught to never take something at face value, to always seek out the truth. The people offended by his Tweet did not do this. Amell later added a series of tweets to clarify his intentions:

“1. I can’t believe I broke my rule and tweeted about an actual event. Staggering to remember that debates in 140 characters don’t work.” This is generally why Amell’s pages are so positive.

“2. What happened to Ahmed was terrible. Obviously.” Most people agree with this.

“3. I happened to read a series of tweets pronouncing that this is a systemic problem in Texas, which is also profiling.” Aha – motive! He wasn’t just tweeting off the cuff. He was responding to some very real hate against Texas. He later clarified in a video on Facebook that his intent was “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” a sentiment most good people would agree with. This sentiment is evident for anyone willing to do the research.

“4. It’s profiling in a much less hurtful / destructive way… but it is profiling.” Truth. After moving to Canada from California, people made general statements about Americans that I found hurtful. When I moved back to California, people made general statements about Canada, which I also found hurtful. When I moved to Iowa, people made general statements about California that I found hurtful. It happens everywhere.

“5. Anywho, I’m not apologizing or deleting the tweets. If you’re outraged at an opinion it’s because you’re bored.” Good on him for calling out bored, lazy trolls.

“6. My wife is from Texas, I have extended family in Texas, and I’ve met thousands of Texans that are wonderful, polite individuals.” More motive: he has a connection to Texas and doesn’t want its reputation as a whole broken because of some individuals.

“7. This gave me an excellent opportunity to block several employees of a couple companies I don’t like. That’s exciting.” Always a silver lining, Mr. Amell.

“8. Last thing: Ahmed’s White House visit will be an awesome, awesome moment.” Support for Ahmed!

“Didn’t mean to offend anyone. Truthfully. Was simply suggesting that two wrongs don’t make a right. I’ll go away for a bit now. SA” I certainly hope Mr. Amell wasn’t simply “scared” away from social media, but was rather stepping away to get on with his real life until the people jumped to the next big thing.

But enough about that non-issue. Yes, what happened in Texas to Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim teenager with an interest in science and engineering, is tragic. But it is not isolated and not strictly about racism or “Islamaphobia.” While racism was definitely present in this situation, it was not the whole story. I urge anyone reading this to go to the following:

Also, I am really irritated by people comparing Ahmed’s situation with that of Taylor Wilson, who is white. In 2006, 14-year-old Wilson built a nuclear reactor and was commended for it. People who compare the two situations simply because of race are oversimplifying things. There are many variables at play here.

Wilson’s intention of building this reactor was known from the get-go. He was mentored by professors and was allowed to “set up shop in the subbasement of the university’s physics department” and brought his project to science fairs. There is no telling what would have happened if Wilson had simply built the reactor on his own without anyone’s knowledge and then brought it to school. Would he have been arrested in that case? Maybe, maybe not. There are more than enough examples of racism in our country, so why drum up false anger over this white kid with his reactor?

What apparently happened to Ahmed Mohamed was terrible. But I stand with Amell. And Wilson. I guess it is more accurate to say that I stand with Human Decency and Common Sense. Instead of constantly searching for someone (like Texans or Amell) or something (like racism) to blame, we should be searching for the truth.

*Stephen Amell’s Twitter is public, so anyone (not just followers) can view the tweets.


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