10 Ways to be an Ally

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
As I have gotten deeper into anti-oppression work I find that I discover more and more subtleties and complexities than I ever considered. Learning to be a good ally is not a linear education with some sort of graduation or certification at the end. It is a process full of experimentation, humility, confusion, challenge, and clarity. This list is by no means complete. It’s really just a few suggestions on how to turn your mind towards solidarity.

1. Consider your position and how it benefits you to be in that position As a white person, a heterosexual person, a person with money, a man, etc. one has certain privileges that are not afforded to others. Many of these privileges are unearned, meaning they are afforded to the person, simply because they are white, a man, a heterosexual. The idea of privilege is also bigger than just making a list of these unearned benefits. It is important to understand how these benefits affect your daily life, your career, your education, and your relationships with authority (landlords, police, bosses, teachers, etc.) among other things. The idea is not necessarily to make a hierarchy of oppression but rather consider how all our identities intersect. For example, if someone is poor but is also white they may not have class privilege, but as a white person, it is likely that they’ll have an easier time being poor than a person of color with the same income level. For more on white privilege specifically check out Peggy McIntosh’s article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf)

2. Do a personal inventory It is helpful to understand how particular issues like racism, sexism, etc. have played out in your own life. One way to do this is to write about all the times that you can remember when some form of oppression affected your life. This could mean that you were the recipient or the perpetrator of oppressive behaviors. It could also be things that you observed or events with which you were personally involved. It could be painful memories from school, work, family, etc. A personal inventory may also include a very honest evaluation of your feelings, thoughts, experiences with, and beliefs about people who are different than you. As a heterosexual, you may discover feelings of discomfort about gay or transgendered people. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It does mean that you have thoughts or feelings that could lead to perpetuating oppression.
3. Do your homework Sometimes people from a dominant culture have a very sincere interest in understanding people from other cultures, races, genders, or sexual orientations. One way to do so is to be in conversation with those other cultures. However, there is a big difference between a natural or intentional conversation about oppression and simply asking someone who has experienced oppression to teach you about it. Asking one person of another culture to be your teacher is disrespectful for a couple of reasons. First, experiences of oppression are utterly personal and often painful. When a white person asks a person of color to share their experiences it could trigger some painful memories.
Second, this creates a false understanding of entire cultures and people. When we ask one person to speak for an entire people, this is what is known as tokenism. Humans are so wonderfully diverse, even within subcultures. Latinos are not just Mexicans and what one African-American person thinks about an issue may be different than what another thinks. When we tokenize someone, we run the risk of reductionist essentialism, reducing a whole group of people into one fixed idea about who they are. Curiously, white people are rarely, if ever asked to represent the ideas and beliefs of their entire race.
Third, there are so many other ways to get a multicultural perspective. Many, many books, articles, and videos are out there to give someone an understanding of other cultures. In seeking these things out one should consider looking into the history of a culture and understanding what role your own culture played in their history. For example, how did policy decisions by able-bodied people affect alter-abled people? Consider the books your read and the movies you watch. Are the others, actors, producers usually from a dominant culture? When one is in conversation with someone who is talking about their experiences in oppression, the best, most supportive thing they can do is to just listen and learn. While some things may sound difficult to believe it is important to remember that this person knows their experience better than we do and that our privilege may have made such experiences unthinkable in our own lives. Receptive listening also ensures that the experiences of people who have been oppressed, as well as the people themselves do not become invisible. Listening can be an act of solidarity.

4. Consider the difference between guilt and action
Discovering that one has benefits that others do not simply because of circumstance can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt or shame. While it is certainly useful to have a sense of regret for conscious or unconscious ways that we have personally or communally perpetuated oppression, it doesn’t necessarily serve us to dwell in that regret. Oppressed people may not care if people in a dominant culture feel bad or guilty. However, they might very well care about how you act upon that guilt. If you want to make a difference, don’t be guilty, be active. Being active means interrupting oppressive comments or conversations but it also means active participation in the struggle.

5. Be clear on why you are involved in the struggle (against racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc)
If you do take action it is important to consider why. Sometimes people from the dominant culture get involved in a struggle in order to “help” or to take up a cause for other people, or to assuage their own feelings of guilt. Part of privilege is that one can choose to engage in the struggle or not. However, for oppressed peoples the choice is not as simple as being a part of a cause or not, it can be a matter of survival. Do we believe that oppression is a problem for the society as a whole or just a problem for it’s victims? While racism affects people of color in very detrimental ways, racism is a problem for white people because it is white people who need to act to change it. As well, it is good to consider how oppression benefits you and what you may get out of ending oppression, and what you may lose. If you’re involved simply to help, get a good internship, or take up a cause, you might be doing yourself and your community a disservice.

6. Consider the difference between charity and solidarity As you do get involved in ending oppression consider not only your intent, but also the effectiveness of your action. Charity is a form of help. Examples of charity include volunteerism (short-term, limited participation in a cause) and philanthropy (donating money to a cause). Consider Martin Luther Kings Jr.’s admonishment: “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
Solidarity is a different sense of involvement. It is a long-term participation in the struggle, understanding the part you play and how the issues affect you personally. As well, solidarity may very well mean not being the center of the solution, but just a small part. It may mean deferring your sense of authority and leadership. It can also mean dropping your own agenda for how change should be achieved. It can be very problematic when the leadership in an organization is people from the dominant culture. When people from the dominant culture define the issues or strategies for oppressed people it can be condescending and ineffective. So, an example of solidarity is being part of community organizing efforts led by people of color, womyn, etc in an active, but non-leadership role. Being in solidarity means seeing how you will benefit from the liberation of others.

7. Don’t be afraid to mess up or be to be uncomfortable
This is difficult work and it requires a lot of humility and vulnerability. It is important to realize that we are asking ourselves to challenge things we’ve believed since we were children. We were brought up with a frame of reference that has inevitable blind spots. We are trying to change behaviors that are well ingrained. We will mess up. Sometimes people will be kind in their response to our follies and sometimes they won’t. However, we can be kind to ourselves by getting support from other people and by attending kindly to whatever emotions arise. We can be kind to others by not letting these mess ups lead to give ups. Anyone who has been involved in anti-oppression work probably has one or many stories of being called out on some unskillful behavior. It is part of the process and something we can ultimately be grateful for, even if it is painful as hell in the moment.

8. Make Amends
If you do mess up, or if you recall some instance in which you feel you acted unskillfully, try to make amends. Apologize to your community or to the person/people directly. Realize that in doing so you may or may not get a positive response from the persons you hurt. Apologizing is not in and of itself the end of the situation. Either way, the best way to make amends might be to continue to be internally introspective and externally active.

9. Don’t expect a pat on the back
It is exciting to engage in social justice work. As we begin to change our internal landscape we may feel our self-esteem rise with our integrity. Sometimes our head may get a little big. Some people have experienced a feeling of being one of “the good white people”, for example. Don’t let this hinder your own self-evaluation and openness to being challenged on your stuff. And don’t expect oppressed peoples to acknowledge your internal or external achievements. If you do find yourself wondering why you aren’t getting more positive feedback for the work you are doing, it may be a good time to check your intentions. Are you doing the work for yourself and your community or because you are trying to be a good helper, feel less guilty, and/or get the respect of others?
10. Do the work within yourself, your own cultures and your own communities
For people who are in the dominant group it may be very difficult to experience the anger or frustration of oppressed people. The level of emotion may trigger very deep wounds of our own and it can get really uncomfortable, really fast. It is important for us to do our own emotional processing work. It is helpful to be clear about our own relationship to anger and other strong emotions so that we are not defensive or shut down when we experience these emotions with people who have been oppressed.
Part of solidarity is creating active change within the privileged communities. This also creates allies for allies, meaning as an ally, it is important to have support from others who are trying to do the same. This helps keep you in check and gives you a place to explore some of the pain and challenges of this work. For example, as you do a personal inventory it can be good to have another person from your same culture to talk with about these memories. It can be transformative when men get together and talk about ways they have mistreated womyn or when white people get together and talk about ways that they could have handled racially insensitive remarks differently. Work within your own culture or community may manifest as a monthly support group or discussion group, a caucus or sub-committee within an organization, or a blog devoted to discussing such matters.
Christopher Bowers is a social worker, student and writer. He hosts a social blog about white privilege at www.whitepriv.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at cjbalive@hotmail.com

Listen to Anti-Racist music

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

How about some music?

Here’s a video by Jasiri X called “What if the Tea Party was Black” (lyrics below).

Got any other anti-racist music to recommend in the comments?

YouTube says,

A few months ago, Tim Wise wrote a widely circulated article called, “Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black” which challenged America to take a close look at the hypocrisy of the Right Wing. Now, a Pittsburgh rapper is accepting his challenge in true Hip Hop form. Jasiri X has released a video called “What if the Tea Party was Black.” The Hip Hop artist says that he got the idea when Paradise,a member of the pro-black rap group X-Clan, forwarded him a copy of Wise’s article. “I saw the article and I liked the concept,” says the rapper. So Jasiri hit the studio with producer Cynik Lethal while Paradise grabbed his video camera and they went on their mission to defeat the Right Wing propaganda machine.

Here’s the video. Jasiri X has also done a followup piece (here), responding to the critics in the 1500+ comments inspired by this one.


What if the tea party was black
Holding guns like the Black Panther Party was back
If Al was Rush Limbaugh and Jesse was Sean Hannity
And Tavis was Glenn Beck would you harm they families
If Sarah Palin was suddenly Sistah Souljah
Would you leave it to the voters or go and get the soldiers
Yall know if the tea party was black
The government would have been had the army attack

What if Michael Baisden was on ya FM dial
For 3 hours every day calling the president foul
Would they say free speech or find evidence how
To charge him with treason like see he’s unamerican now
What if Minister Farrakhan prayed for the death
Of the commander in chief that he be laid to rest
Would they treat it as the gravest threat or never make an arrest
Even today he’s still hated for less
What if President Obama would have lost the election
Quit his job so he could go talk to the left and
Bash the government for being off of direction
Fraught with deception
And told black people they want all of our weapons
And we want our own country and called for secession
Would he be arrested and tossed in corrections
For trying to foster aggression
Against the people’s lawful selection
Our questions

What if the tea party was black
Holding guns like the Black Panther Party was back
If Al was Rush Limbaugh and Jesse was Sean Hannity
And Tavis was Glenn Beck would you harm they families
If Sarah Palin was suddenly Sistah Souljah
Would you leave it to the voters or go and get the soldiers
Yall know if the tea party was black
The government would have been had the army attack

What If black people went on Facebook and made a page
That for the death of the president elect we prayed
Would the creators be tazed and thrown in a cage
We know the page wouldn’t have been displayed all these days
What if Jeremiah Wright said that everybody white
Wasn’t a real Americna would you feel scared of him
If he had a militia with pictures that depict the president as Hitler
They would kill and bury that
What if Cynthia McKinney lamented the winning of the new president
And hinted he wasn’t really a true resident
With no proof or evidence
Would the media treat it like a huge press event
They would have attacked whatever group she represents
They would have called her a kook on precedent
And any network that gave her due preference
Would be the laughing stock of the news so our question is

What if the tea party was black
Holding guns like the Black Panther Party was back
If Al was Rush Limbaugh and Jesse was Sean Hannity
And Tavis was Glenn Beck would you harm they families
If Sarah Palin was suddenly Sistah Souljah
Would you leave it to the voters or go and get the soldiers
Yall know if the tea party was black
The government would have been had the army attack

In the course of running this blog, I’ve come to understand at least two things much better than I did before — common white tendencies and the broader context in which they occur. That alone has been worth the time and effort to me, but I sometimes wonder what other people get out of this blog. Regarding the former understanding for myself, “common white tendencies,” I’ve come to see that I myself am more likely to feel, think, and act in racist ways than I realized; I have a lot of common white tendencies, and in order to be a person whose actions are better aligned with his principles, I need to keep working on them. Regarding the latter understanding, “context,” I’ve come to see that racism is so entrenched in my country (the U.S.) and in others, and so pervasive, that I now routinely describe the social order in a way that I didn’t before — I describe it as “de facto white supremacist.” Recently, my use of that phrase tripped up David “Oso” Sasaki, a blogger who linked approvingly to a guest post here. Here’s what happened — and I’m describing it all because I’d like to ask you about what happened. In that swpd post, “K” wrote about her annoyance with white travelers who pursue “authenticity,” especially while traveling in non-white countries. Oso’s post, on his blog El Oso, is an interesting meditation on, as I read it, the folly of seeking “authenticity,” especially in a world where a misleading sense of the authentic is increasingly manufactured and sold to us. Oso would know, it seems, as he’s apparently a very seasoned traveler. “I highly recommend the post,” Oso writes of K’s swpd piece, because it “does a great job of treating authenticity as a commodity, which increasingly it is.” So far so good. But then Oso wrote something that I felt compelled to respond to, and I’d really appreciate your response to my brief exchange with Oso, and especially to his final comment below, which includes a condemnation of swpd itself. After praising K’s discussion of white travelers, Oso wrote, But, as per usual, I disagree that seeking authenticity in other cultures or treating it as a commodity is limited to only whites. One commenter on the post linked to a New York Times article [which] shows that the same search for authenticity in China is leading yuppie Han Chinese to amusement parks celebrating ethnic minorities like the Dai people. I think a lot of readers here would describe this as an example of the Arab Trader Argument — Abagond’s useful term for the problematic pointing-out of other people who also do some of the things that white people do. I left a comment on Oso’s post that said, more or less to that effect, To say, as I do on my blog, that white people have some common tendencies is not to say that no one else has this or that said tendency as well. Rather, it’s worth pointing out that when white people do them, they do them within in an ongoing, de facto white supremacist context. That makes their doing them different from other people’s doing them. Oso got tripped up on a phrase within that comment, and so he asked in return, “It’s been a while since I roamed the hallways of ivory tower ethnic studies so you’re gonna have to break that one down for me. What exactly does that mean? And how does it differ from what some future Chinese theorist might call ‘an ongoing, de facto Han supremacist context’?” If you’re still reading, please hang in there — I do have something to ask you about. Oso’s comment below, especially, got me to thinking about just why I run this blog, and how it may or may not be valuable for various readers. After explaining what I mean by “de facto white supremacy,” I replied to Oso, I’m just describing the West, including the U.S., as a place that in effect favors whites and disfavors, disregards, delegitimizes, and discriminates against non-whites, at systemic and individual levels. I raised the point [about your post] because I don’t see the value of pointing out that other people also do some of the objectionable things that white people do. In fact, when white people do that kind of pointing out, they’re often doing that in order to deflect attention being paid at the moment to white racism. “But he did it too!” is a playground excuse that should have no place in serious discussions of white racism (not that I necessarily think your pointing out that “other people do it too” was quite that kind of deflection — or was it?) Does that make sense?

The Oscar-winning best picture — widely heralded, especially by white liberals, for advancing an honest discussion of race in the United States — is, in fact, a setback in the crucial project of forcing white America to come to terms with the reality of race and racism, white supremacy and white privilege.

The central theme of the film is simple: Everyone is prejudiced — black, white, Asian, Iranian and, we assume, anyone from any other racial or ethnic group. We all carry around racial/ethnic baggage that’s packed with unfair stereotypes, long-stewing grievances, raw anger, and crazy fears. Even when we think we have made progress, we find ourselves caught in frustratingly complex racial webs from which we can’t seem to get untangled.

For most people — including the two of us — that’s painfully true; such untangling is a life’s work in which we can make progress but never feel finished. But that can obscure a more fundamental and important point: This state of affairs is the product of the actions of us white people. In the modern world, white elites invented race and racism to protect their power, and white people in general have accepted the privileges they get from the system and helped maintain it. The problem doesn’t spring from the individual prejudices that exist in various ways in all groups but from white supremacy, which is expressed not only by individuals but in systemic and institutional ways. There’s little hint of such understanding in the film, which makes it especially dangerous in a white-dominant society in which white people are eager to avoid confronting our privilege.

So, “Crash” is white supremacist because it minimizes the reality of white supremacy. Its faux humanism and simplistic message of tolerance directs attention away from a white-supremacist system and undermines white accountability for the maintenance of that system. We have no way of knowing whether this is the conscious intention of writer/director Paul Haggis, but it emerges as the film’s dominant message.

While viewing “Crash” may make some people, especially white people, uncomfortable during and immediately after viewing, the film seems designed, at a deeper level, to make white people feel better. As the film asks us to confront personal prejudices, it allows us white folk to evade our collective responsibility for white supremacy. In “Crash,” emotion trumps analysis, and psychology is more important than politics. The result: White people are off the hook.

The first step in putting white people back on the hook is pressing the case that the United States in 2006 is a white-supremacist society. Even with the elimination of formal apartheid and the lessening of the worst of the overt racism of the past, the term is still appropriate, in ideological and material terms.

The United States was founded, of course, on an ideology of the inherent superiority of white Europeans over non-whites that was used to justify the holocausts against indigenous people and Africans, which created the nation and propelled the U.S. economy into the industrial world. That ideology also has justified legal and extralegal exploitation of every non-white immigrant group.

Today, polite white folks renounce such claims of superiority. But scratch below that surface politeness and the multicultural rhetoric of most white people, and one finds that the assumptions about the superiority of the art, music, culture, politics, and philosophy rooted in white Europe are still very much alive. No poll can document these kinds of covert opinions, but one hears it in the angry and defensive reaction of white America when non-white people dare to point out that whites have unearned privilege. Watch the resistance from white America when any serious attempt is made to modify school or college curricula to reflect knowledge from other areas and peoples. The ideology of white supremacy is all around.

That ideology also helps white Americans ignore and/or rationalize the racialized disparities in the distribution of resources. Studies continue to demonstrate how, on average, whites are more likely than members of racial/ethnic minorities to be on top on measures of wealth and well-being. Looking specifically at the gap between white and black America, on some measures black Americans have fallen further behind white Americans during the so-called post-civil rights era. For example, the typical black family had 60 percent as much income as a white family in 1968, but only 58 percent as much in 2002. On those measures where there has been progress, closing the gap between black and white is decades, or centuries, away.

What does this white supremacy mean in day-to-day life? One recent study found that in the United States, a black applicant with no criminal record is less likely to receive a callback from a potential employer than a white applicant with a felony conviction. In other words, being black is more of a liability in finding a job than being a convicted criminal. Into this new century, such discrimination has remained constant.

That’s white supremacy. Many people, of all races, feel and express prejudice, but white supremacy is built into the attitudes, practices and institutions of the dominant white society. It’s not the product simply of individual failure but is woven into society, and the material consequences of it are dramatic.

It seems that the people who made “Crash” either don’t understand that, don’t care, or both. The character in the film who comes closest to articulating a systemic analysis of white supremacy is Anthony, the carjacker played by the rapper Ludacris. But putting the critique in the mouth of such a morally unattractive character undermines any argument he makes, and his analysis is presented as pseudo-revolutionary blather to be brushed aside as we follow the filmmakers on the real subject of the film — the psychology of the prejudice that infects us all.

That the characters in “Crash” — white and non-white alike — are complex and have a variety of flaws is not the problem; we don’t want films populated by one-dimensional caricatures, simplistically drawn to make a political point. Those kinds of political films rarely help us understand our personal or political struggles. But this film’s characters are drawn in ways that are ultimately reactionary.
Although the film follows a number of story lines, its politics are most clearly revealed in the interaction that two black women have with an openly racist white Los Angeles police officer played by Matt Dillon. During a bogus traffic stop, Dillon’s Officer Ryan sexually violates Christine, the upper-middle-class black woman played by Thandie Newton. But when fate later puts Ryan at the scene of an accident where Christine’s life is in danger, he risks his own life to save her, even when she at first reacts hysterically and rejects his help. The white male is redeemed by his heroism. The black woman, reduced to incoherence by the trauma of the accident, can only be silently grateful for his transcendence.

Even more important to the film’s message is Ryan’s verbal abuse of Shaniqua, a black case manager at an insurance company (played by Loretta Devine). She bears Ryan’s racism with dignity as he dumps his frustration with the insurance company’s rules about care of his father onto her, in the form of an angry and ignorant rant against affirmative action. She is empathetic with Ryan’s struggle but unwilling to accept his abuse, appearing to be one of the few reasonable characters in the film. But not for long.

In a key moment at the end of the film, Shaniqua is rear-ended at a traffic light and emerges from her car angry at the Asian driver who has hit her. “Don’t talk to me unless you speak American,” she shouts at the driver. As the camera pulls back, we are left to imagine the language she uses in venting her prejudice.

In stark contrast to Ryan and his racism is his police partner at the beginning of the film, Hanson (played by Ryan Phillippe). Younger and idealistic, Hanson tries to get Ryan to back off from the encounter with Christine and then reports Ryan’s racist behavior to his black lieutenant, Dixon (played by Keith David). Dixon doesn’t want the hassles of initiating a disciplinary action and Hanson is left to cope on his own, but he continues to try to do the right thing throughout the movie. Though he’s the white character most committed to racial justice, at the end of the film Hanson’s fear overcomes judgment in a tense moment, and he shoots and kills a black man. It’s certainly true that well-intentioned white people can harbor such fears rooted in racist training. But in the world “Crash” creates, Hanson’s deeper awareness of the nature of racism and attempts to combat it are irrelevant, while Ryan somehow magically overcomes his racism.

Let us be clear: “Crash” is not a racist movie, in the sense of crudely using overtly racist stereotypes. It certainly doesn’t present the white characters as uniformly good; most are clueless or corrupt. Two of the non-white characters (a Latino locksmith and an Iranian doctor) are the most virtuous in the film. The characters and plot lines are complex and often intriguing. But “Crash” remains a white-supremacist movie because of what it refuses to bring into the discussion.

At this point in our critique, defenders of the film have suggested to us that we expect too much, that movies tend to deal with issues at this personalized level and we can’t expect more. This is evasion. For example, whatever one thinks of its politics, another recent film, “Syriana,” presents a complex institutional analysis of U.S. foreign policy in an engaging fashion. It’s possible to produce a film that is politically sophisticated and commercially viable. Haggis is clearly talented, and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t have deepened the analysis in creative ways.

“Crash” fans also have offered this defense to us: In a culture that seems terrified of any open discussion of race, isn’t some attempt at an honest treatment of the complexity of the issue better than nothing? That’s a classic argument from false alternatives. Are we stuck with a choice between silence or bad analysis? Beyond that, in this case the answer may well be no. If “Crash” and similar efforts that personalize and psychologize the issue of race keep white America from an honest engagement with the structure and consequences of white supremacy, the ultimate effect may be reactionary. In that case, “nothing” may be better.

The problem of “Crash” can be summed up through one phrase from the studio’s promotional material, which asserts that the film “boldly reminds us of the importance of tolerance.”

That’s exactly the problem. On the surface, the film appears to be bold, speaking of race with the kind of raw emotion that is rare in this culture. But that emotion turns out, in the end, to be manipulative and diversionary. The problem is that the film can’t move beyond the concept of tolerance, and tolerance is not the solution to America’s race problem. White people can — and often do — learn to tolerate difference without ever disturbing the systemic, institutional nature of racism.

The core problem is not intolerance but white supremacy — and the way in which, day in and day out, white people accept white supremacy and the unearned privileges it brings.

“Crash” paints a multi-colored picture of race, and in a multi-racial society recognizing that diversity is important. Let’s just not forget that the color of racism is white.

Robert Wosnitzer is associate producer of the forthcoming documentary on pornography “The Price of Pleasure.” He can be reached at robert.wosnitzer@mac.com.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, http://thirdcoastactivist.org/. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

In order to be effective allies for racial justice we need to start by confronting our own prejudices.  An online tool that can help in this process is Project Implicit.  Project Implicit is the product of research by three scientists whose work produced a new approach to understanding of attitudes, biases, and stereotypes. Their Implicit Association Test measures implicit attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling or unable to report. Some of the available tests measure attitudes about race, religion, and ethnic origins.

To take a test go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/selectatest.html

Anti-mosque TV Ad

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

This video reveals some of the opinions held by people who oppose the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City. What tactics do they use to persuade people of their position?  When I first watched this ad I was struck by the images of armed militants and the footage of a plane hitting the Twin Towers and a person jumping from the building to their death. The creators of this advertisement, the National Republican Trust Pac, clearly want to evoke feelings of anger and fear in their viewers and then direct these emotions into opposition to the mosque construction.  Are there facts to support their message of fear?  Hardly.  For instance, the video states, “where we Americans weep, they rejoice and intend to erect a shrine to the 9/11 terrorists they hail as martyrs.”  First off, the label of “American” isn’t limited to WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) – Americans follow a variety of religions, including Islam, and identify with various ethnicities, including Arab.  Second, the Islamic center isn’t a “shrine” to the “martyrs” of 9/11; it’s a place of worship that doesn’t have anything to do with 9/11.  Plus, the center isn’t being built at Ground Zero – its intended location is several blocks away.  This organization is obscuring the facts and using scare tactics to advocate for discrimination against Muslims and Arabs.  Don’t be fooled.

Racism Post-September 11

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

It isn’t a secret that Muslims and Arabs living in America have been subjected to increased scrutiny and discrimination following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Many Americans reacted to the attacks with feelings of fear and anger that were directed at the group of people who were seen as responsible. While these emotional responses were completely reasonable in the immediate aftermath, the persistent nature of these biases is evidence of deeper racism.

In an article titled “A Rage Shared by Law: Post-September 11 Racial Violence as Crimes of Passion,” Muhneer Ahmad, professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, analyzes the trends of individual and institutional racism post-September 11. Ahmad writes that after September 11 people made the assumption that “because all of the September 11 terrorists were Arab and Muslim, all Arabs and Muslims must be terrorists themselves, or terrorist sympathizers.” There is no uniform opinion of what Muslims and Arabs look like, however, which has led to the creation of a new racial category: “Muslim-looking” people.

post-September 11 hate violence and governmental profiling regimes have helped to create a new racial construct of “Muslim-looking” people. Because this new racial category is informed by various characteristics, both real and perceived, such as religion, skin color, other aspects of phenotypic appearance, name, national origin, dress, language, and accent, in theory and in practice it encompasses a broad range of racial and ethnic communities. Thus, hate violence may be directed toward Sikhs or non-Muslim Latinos because of a mistaken assumption that they are Muslim or Arab.

Individual acts of hate violence targeting people who are “Muslim-looking” are concerning in their own right, but when these acts are mirrored in government policies that promote racial profiling it creates an environment that legitimizes racism and acts of racially-motivated violence. For people who are perceived as Arab or Muslim the operating framework is guilty until proven innocent. We have seen this principle at work in airport screenings of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians; in secret arrests of people based on country of origin; in immigration policies targeted to exclude certain races; and in the selective enforcement of immigration laws that has resulted in increased deportation of immigrants from Muslim countries.

If we, as Americans, claim to support “liberty and justice for all” we need to educate ourselves about the racism that is being promoted through government policies. We also have a responsibility to learn the truth about Islam, so that our actions and opinions aren’t influenced by false assumptions.

Ahmad, M.I. (2004). A Rage Shared By Law: Post-September 11 Racial Violence as Crimes of Passion. California Law Review, 92(5), 1259-1330.


I used tagxedo.com to create a tag cloud in the shape of the United States that illustrates the frequency of words used in Ahmad's article. Are these the ideas, words, and emotions we want the United States to be associated with?