by Shanice BrimWe’re at a critical time in the United States. From the moment the Trayvon Martin case hit social media and the news it has seemed like America’s “family values” and “nation of immigrants” facade has been crumbling steadily. From the debate surrounding immigration reform, to Black Lives Matter, women’s reproductive rights, gun control, to the Syrian Refugee crisis--America is having trouble saving face on the world stage. After the murders of newlyweds, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, along with Mohammad Abu-Salha’s 19-year-old sister, Razan, increased attention has been paid to Islamophobia in the United States. It’s important that anyone who cares about social justice be aware of how our media teaches and reinforces Islamophobia in the States. Here are 5 ways:
1. The media uses Islamophobia to create headlines.
I firmly believe that people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been allowed to progress so far in the presidential because the media refuses to take their racism, xenophobia, ableism, and Islamophobia seriously. Instead, the media has created somewhat of an amusing media circus around it. It’s treated their hate speech as something shocking, titillating, sound-bite worthy. This is why Donald Trump, who has called for mosque surveillance and has said that he would like to ban all Muslim travel in the States (along with a flurry of other hateful things about just about every marginalized group) is allowed to appear on the cover of New York Magazine uncritically and host Saturday Night Live. We’ve created an environment in which Islamophobia and general hate speech is good for business and ratings.
2. The media asks Muslims to apologize for the actions of a misguided few.
Whenever a national tragedy happens, marginalized groups have a private moment amongst themselves in which they hope that the perpetrator wasn’t one of their own. When White Christian people make headlines for hateful and violent behavior, the media works double-time to explain away their actions. When a marginalized person does something, everyone who belongs to their racial or religious group is expected to pay the price. After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, CNN anchors ambushed Yasser Louati, of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, about the “responsibility” Muslims had to condemn the attacks. It was disgusting. When we allow for this type of “journalism” to thrive we create unsafe environments for Muslims.
Islam is a religion. Technically, anyone could be Muslim--a member of any race, a person of any gender, a person from any country. And yet, Islamophobia and racism tend to go hand in hand. If most Americans were asked to think of a Muslim they would most likely picture someone brown, someone usually of South Asian descent. Often, I get the sense from Islamophobic people that they don’t actually know what Islam is and that they’re just using it as a vessel for their hatred of Brown folks. Case in point:
When you note the ways in which Muslims are portrayed in American media you have a pretty good case in suggesting the United States is running some sort of smear campaign. We’ve all seen it: the action movie in which the bad guy is a Brown man with an over the top “Middle Eastern” accent with plans to blow things up. It’s been happening and going completely unchecked for decades. My first time seeing Back To The Future was a only a few years ago. I was very excited to see what all the hype was about. As I sat with other New Yorkers on the Hudson pier on a beautiful summer night, I was completely horrified. My friend must’ve seen my face because she made a remark about how the film wasn’t very progressive in its portrayal of Brown people. And boy is it not:
After the attacks in Paris, images surfaced of Canadian writer, Veerender Jubbal, posing in his bathroom in a bomb vest while holding a Koran. Anyone with any amount of internet literacy would’ve known that this was fake. But, instead of doing their job (which is to investigate), media outlets ran this image in the news. Jubbal suspects that his critical take on #Gamergate is what led to his innocent mirror selfie being doctored and passed around the internet, but I do not believe that this would’ve happened had he been White and Christian. The media’s need to frighten the public and incite hysteria surrounding Islam could’ve easily ruined this individual man’s life, but it makes the lives of Muslims all over the world hard everyday. It seems the media is interested in flooding the news with increasingly terrifying images of Islam and Brown people to the point that they aren't even checking their sources anymore before they run stories.
It’s easy to take what’s presented to us in the news as fact. Technically, the news is supposed to be an objective source of information. Unfortunately, Malcolm X was right (as he usually was), “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” It’s important to take what you hear about Brown people, Muslims, and any marginalized group with a grain of salt. Be aware of the ways in which media is being used to guide your beliefs because sometimes they are guiding you toward hate.
Shanice Brim is a 25 year old New Yorker by way of Alabama, New Jersey and California. She’s an avid reader, Beyoncé enthusiast and fan of the film Clueless.