In January, YouTube asked me to participate in the GOP debate in Iowa and present a question for the candidates to answer. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to speak out on an issue that I am deeply passionate about — Islamophobia and the growing culture of intolerance in America today. My question, which highlighted the rise of hate crimes against Muslims in recent months and the presence of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and online, received a mixed response. On one end, I felt a huge wave of support. On the other, I experienced a great deal of backlash and harassment.
Many people were infuriated with me for attempting to shed light on the current Muslim experience in America. Many people mocked me for mentioning that Muslims, Sikhs and more have suffered from hate crimes and harassment. To many people, I was just downright foolish for trying to spread tolerance. After I brought to light a real issue of Islamophobia and intolerance, I received an outpour of hateful messages and comments that only proved my point.
From the bigoted comments to the graphic tweets with images of dead bodies and violence, the message could not have been clearer. There is a problem. Hate and intolerance in America is growing, and it’s up to us to have the tough conversations to spark real change.
A great place to start is tackling the culture of cyberbullying. I have made it my personal responsibility to take on important issues on my YouTube channel, in hopes to inspire my audience to think critically and own their voice. I have spoken out against a YouTube creator who created a video entitled “Dear Fat People,” in which she spewed offensive and hurtful commentary in the name of comedy. My response video received an immense amount of support, but I also dealt with major backlash and received countless body-shaming comments on a regular basis.
Next, I released a video called “Dear America,” where I spoke out against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media today. This video produced the same results of support and harassment. I quickly realized the magnitude of bullying on the internet and just how common it has become.
With the Internet consuming so much of our lives on a daily basis, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that it’s also the birthplace for much of the intolerance growing in the hearts and minds of people today? If cyberbullying is not seen as a threat to our society, it will be accepted as a norm attached to social media. When articles and videos are published and the comments section is polluted with anonymous hateful commentary, those words are also consumed by the viewer. They can also shape our perspectives on issues or even impact us on a personal level. So it is up to us to educate ourselves and our loved ones on the impact of words and the consequences of cyber-bullying and anonymous online harassment.
The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is just one of the many ways we have been taught to detach value from words. Yet words seem to shape our reality. Words dictate our moods and bring us joy, sadness, fear and hope. Words matter. It is important that we band together and speak up about the power of words. Whether it be a gross generalization of a group of people or a cruel comment on a person’s body or appearance, the issue remains the same. Standing up to bigotry, whether it be Islamophobia, misogyny, or homophobia is more than just a choice. It is our duty as members of this digital world in which we live.
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