Written by Elizabeth Leung
January 9, 2012
Witness for Justice #562
If you are a
witness for justice, what kind of television viewer are you? How do you make known the kind of visibility justice that you support as a
consumer? What is the bigger picture
that a witness for racial justice should be aware of?
A while ago,
Lowe’s Home Improvement pulled their advertisements from the TLC’s reality TV
show “All-American Muslim.” The reality
show followed five families in
Dearborn, Michigan, focusing on a cop, an expectant mother, a bride, an
entrepreneur and a football coach. Lowe’s
admitted that the decision was due to a trumped-up controversy generated by the
Florida Christian Family Association.
The group attacked the show as “propaganda,” that is, showing the lives
of American Muslims as ordinary and not as terrorist, and called for a boycott
of the advertisers.
This got me
thinking: what does it mean to be a witness for racial justice, as a consumer
of the entertainment media and beyond?
The idea of an
ordinary yet entertaining portrayal of Muslim Americans on the television
screen is to be commended, as it tries to resist the negative stereotyping of
persons perceived to be Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and/or Muslim as
extremist. It reflects a desire of the
fair-minded viewer to be a witness that refuses to consume “entertaining”
racial, cultural, sexual stereotypes, and all the accompanying hatred and
violence, exoticism and titillation. Perhaps
that is also a common aspiration among those 200,000 people who signed a
petition, delivered by a coalition of activist and faith-based groups, asking
Lowe’s to apologize for pulling ads from the show.
How would a
witness for racial justice move forward in courage in 2012, beyond a one-time
action response to a controversy concerning a television show?
We can begin by
coming to terms with racism histories, and refusing to participate in racism
amnesia that allows structures of inequalities to quietly evolve into new
forms. For example, the American racial
imagination of Muslim and/or people of Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian
origins do not begin with the 2001 event of 9/11. According to Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race and Colonialism in American
History and Identity by Paul Spickard (2007), a federal court decided an
Arab George Dow was White and entitled to U.S. citizenship in 1915, in the same
era when other courts were deciding Japanese and South Asians were not
White. Such structures of inequalities
often play one group against another and remain culturally influential. Arab Americans continued to be White through
the 1950s and 1960s, until OPEC began raising oil prices in 1974, and suddenly Middle-Eastern
looking Americans were perceived to be threatening. Post 9/11, the corporate media’s focus on
individual hate crimes and “a few bad apples” of the Abu Ghraib torture case
overshadowed state accountability in promoting violence against persons
perceived to be Arab or Muslim (see Race
and Arab Americans before and after 9/11 by Nadine Naber, 2007.) In short, if we are intentional about
anti-racism, we have to learn about America’s racism past and its social
structures, in order to expose how they mutate to the present insidious forms.
Let us witness
forward together in 2012.
The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches
throughout the United States. Rooted in
the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal
relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of
every UCC congregation. UCC members and
churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains
principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.
Download Bulletin Insert