Sahar Mohammadzadeh: Hearing Diversity by Listening to Hidden Voices

Sahar Mohammadzadeh and her father have been listening to NPR every morning for years. A relaxing tradition they started when she was in grade school. But when the podcast started misrepresenting her heritage, she decided to scream – until she stopped to listen to hidden voices and realized how much we’re all missing when we don’t do the same, how much is at stake when we allow inaccurate speech. In her story she shares how hearing hidden voices has influenced her life and changed her perspective, and why it’s important for others to take the time to do the same. 


My father and I developed a cherished morning tradition when I was in first grade, one we’ve maintained. Without fault, we would settle in the car amidst the pitch black moments before dawn, turn on the ignition, and tune the radio station to NPR’s morning report. I savored the power in knowing the intricacies of foreign society and government. The simple podcasts became the highlight of my day until the country from which my parents emigrated from became a frequent topic. Nationally disseminated reports plagued with unintentional, inattentive errors began to spoil the experience I had come to admire. I recall sitting in the car screaming: “It’s pronounced ‘E-ran’ not ‘I-ran!’ The country’s name is not a simple sentence formed with a subject and a verb. Our individual backgrounds cannot be painted with a single sweep of the brush!”


But every time I lashed out in frustration, my father always said: “Don’t strain yourself. They can’t hear you from the car.”

The movement for political correctness is more than a plea to cease name calling and mudslinging. It is a demand for cultural respect and acceptance. Future leaders should not only have a vast factual comprehension of international cultures devoid of personal opinion, but should employ expressions with the intent of collaboration, not exclusion or marginalization. 

To me, a young Iranian-American, Muslim woman, the consequences of inaccurate speech are blatantly evident. I hear stories of my friends living in New York City, forced to disrobe their hijabs when walking to school in the busy streets. They fear for their safety as violent riots surge a few blocks away. I receive phone calls from my Iranian grandparents, aunts, cousins asking, “Are you okay?” They query when I will visit again. They worry about what will happen to the Nuclear Deal and the trade sanctions.


I yearn to give them the answers they so desperately request. If only I knew.

Although I may be too young to vote, I am not too young to experience rising social ramifications, to sense the bubbling anger and fear that diversity and difference unearths. However, simply because we fail to comprehend other voices does not mean that they are not valid. Lack of cultural empathy is not rooted in hatred or racial prejudice, but rather in a failure to communicate and understand that we are not as divisively different as we perceive. If humanity is to be humble and respectful of different perspectives, if humanity is to bask in the breadth of experience, then humanity must be classified the universal race, regardless of the religion or culture that accompanies it. We are all screaming to be heard, but are you listening to the hidden voices?

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