We’ve all seen what happens when a Muslim boy builds a homemade clock in the United States. Texas teenager Ahmed Mohammed was removed from Irving MacArthur High School after he attempted to bring his simple homemade clock into school to show his engineering teacher.
An English teacher saw the device and, as Mohammed’s skin was brownish, assumed the gifted teen was a terrorist. Ahmed was arrested Monday, with school officials and police declaring his clock — which he always maintained was simply a clock — to be a “hoax bomb.”
Mohammad was taken to a juvenile detention facility, and was later released to his parents after a lengthy interrogation. Mohammed was not permitted to have contact with his parents while he was searched and questioned — a clear violation of his civil rights under Texas Family Code, which states: “A child may not be left unattended in a juvenile processing office and is entitled to be accompanied by the child’s parent, guardian, or other custodian or by the child’s attorney.”
“They searched me, they took a fingerprint and mugshots of me, and they searched me until my parents came….I couldn’t call my parents during interrogation,” Mohamed later explained. “It made me feel like I wasn’t human. It made me feel like a criminal.”
After the school and police overreacted to the clock, an outpouring of support on social media got the attention of some very powerful people, ending with an invitation to the White House, tand praise from Facebook, MIT, Twitter, and Google — all of whom are eager to recruit the brilliant teenager.
While one might claim, if that person lacked any semblance of an ability to logically process events, that the school was simply keeping students safe by singling out the brown-skinned kid who had the audacity to showcase his invention, what if Mohammed was white?
Meet Taylor Wilson.
Wilson, like Mohammed is a brilliant young mind. In fact, unlike Mohammad, Wilson actually builds bombs. The Arkansas teen built his first bomb out of a pill bottle and household chemicals at the age of ten, attempted to construct his own particle accelerator at age eleven and, at age fourteen, became the youngest person ever to achieve nuclear fusion.
“I’m obsessed with radioactivity. I don’t know why,” Wilson said in 2012. “Possibly because there’s power in atoms that you can’t see, an unlocked power.” The caucasian teenager, like Mohammed, attracted the attention of authorities — in Wilson’s case, homeland security — but he was never dragged out of school in handcuffs.
In fact, when the teen built a nuclear reactor in his parents’ home, Wilson was invited to meet with officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Energy, who encouraged Wilson to apply for a research grant and offered the teen assistance and equipment in his ventures.
This treatment, of course, is very different from that which Mohammed received:
Mohammad isn’t the first teenager whose life has been turned upside-down because of an overreaction to a combination of skin color and technology. In 2013, African-American teen Kiera Wilmot was expelled from school and charged with a felony after a “science fair experiment” involving toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil mixed in a plastic water bottle — something similar to Wilson’s first bomb, but with less “oomph,” caused a small pop and some smoke.
No property was damaged, and there were no injuries, but the black teen was painted as a criminal for her desire to learn.
“They didn’t read me any rights. They arrested me after sitting in the office for a couple minutes,” she told the ACLU after her arrest. “They handcuffed me. It cut my wrist, and really hurt sitting on my hands behind my back.”
“They told me I made a bomb on school property, and police possibly have the right to arrest me. I didn’t know what they classified as a bomb,” she said. “I was worried I accidently made a bomb. I was really hurt and scared. I was crying.” In reality, she had attempted to make a “volcano” as part of a class assignment.
Ultimately, all charges against Wilmot were dropped and the teen and her twin sister were presented with a scholarship to space camp. Her expulsion was also overturned, but because of the school’s overreaction to her experiment, her life did not get easier –unless coursework is considered:
Right now I’m at Bill Duncan Opportunity Center, which is for students who were kicked out of school. People are teasing me and calling me a terrorist. And the school is actually quite easy. I’m not getting the challenge that I used to have. I don’t have homework. There is no German class, and there is no orchestra. I probably couldn’t even bring my cello because I was told the students would steal it.
It is important in today’s world that we encourage our children to reach for the stars, to learn all they can. Unfortunately, the playing field is not equal. While Wilson received much-deserved encouragement from the start, Mohammed and Wilmot were undeservingly treated like criminals simply for exploring and learning. But, of course, this is to be expected in a nation which repeatedly demonizes African-Americans and Muslims, who are often treated with suspicion, almost automatically.