(Editor’s note: Last month, Ava Sharifi, an Iranian-American, posted on YouTube a video of a speech she delivered at a school assembly.)
Ever since the release of my speech, “We Are All Human,” I have been receiving waves of support from individuals I have never met before, yet they speak to me as a friend. It has not only shown me the power of human connection, but the strength needed to continue with my story.
When first presenting my speech, I focused on speaking to my physical audience, without further thought of the future. Looking back, it is frustrating to see my naivete; believing I would receive no resistance toward my message. Now, I must deal with hateful messages and comments, expressing hate for my words and me, as though two separate divisions.
“Don’t read them,” many say, not knowing how difficult they are to avoid. One individual took the time to send an anonymous letter, expressing the “science” of how Muslims are more animal than human, while another deeply described how he would “send me back to where I came from.”
It’s a surrounding force that is impossible to escape.
Just like my supporters, my opponents have taught me an important lesson. My presentation is 7 minutes and 22 seconds long. I intently watched as it was posted, and 2 minutes and 42 seconds later, I had received four hateful messages and a video to demonstrate the apparent monstrosity of the Middle East.
After 9,000 views, the average watch time was 4 minutes and 3 seconds. The average amount of resentful messages: 150 a day. I not only learned the ability of several to open their hearts, but the ability of most to close their ears.
I started with a hope of changing minds, and ended with a strike of realism. I was not able to change minds; instead, I was only able to see those who agreed with my title before even hitting “Play.”
“Muslim” is a buzzword. Thus, my speech was seen as the talk of Muslims. But my speech was not about Muslims; it was about human beings. Any race or religion could be inserted into my speech, and my message would remain the same. I only used my life as an example.
As a society, we have fallen into the trap of dehumanization and creating enemies from the unknown. We must think further than this frame. The “us” must call themselves the “them” in order to grieve, humanize and sympathize with the persecuted and oppressed. We must take the time to listen to people beaten down by society, instead of developing hateful opinions 2 minutes and 42 seconds later.
We are all human; it’s time to think of each other as such.
Ava Sharifi is a senior at Lewis and Clark High School. To watch the video, see the online version of this commentary.