Naomusings

My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the category “Representation”

Attention Racists! “Muslim” is a Religion, Not a Racial Slur

Miss America 2013, Nina Davuluri, "accused" on the Twittersphere of being a Muslim

Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, “accused” on the Twittersphere of being a Muslim

Here’s my latest theory on racism in America.  Since the 1970s, and especially since 9/11, there’s been quite a bit of anti-Muslim hatred in America. My theory is that this racism falls into two categories.

First, there is anti-Muslim rhetoric that is the same thing as anti-Islamic rhetoric.  Proponents of this type of rhetoric oppose Islam and the people who follow it.

The other type of anti-Muslim rhetoric? It’s not about followers of Islam per se.  Rather, I suspect that many people who spew hatred about Muslims do not actually know what “Muslim” means. It seems that Americans have come to see the word “Muslim” as synonymous with “brown-skinned foreigner.”  Or at least with brown-skinned foreigners who don’t fall easily into a category with whom many Americans are familiar.  People from Mexico and China aren’t often “accused” of being Muslim.  But people from Egypt, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Kenya — and Americans who descend from people from these nations?  They’re all a bunch of “Muslims.”

And when I say that some Americans don’t understand that Islam is a religion, I don’t mean that these people are ignorant about the details of Islam. I mean that there’s a certain percentage of the population that literally doesn’t know that Islam = religion, just like Christianity = religion.

What made me conclude this? Just look at the bizarre anti-Muslim comments that spread throughout Twitter after the crowning of Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri. This woman is an American woman of Indian descent.  Like most Indians and people of Indian descent, she’s not a Muslim.  And yet you’d never know that from reading Twitter after the pageant. Here’s a representative tweet that declares that Miss America is a “Muslim”:

Miss America Muslim

Of course, in lieu of actual information about Islam, Americans with this mindset “know” that Muslims are associated with terrorism.  Hence, the Twittersphere was abuzz with accusations that Miss America is a terrorist:

miss america terrorist tweets

Of course, this all relates to anti-Obama rhetoric that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  Barack Obama has stated clearly that he’s a Christian, so people who “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim are (1) believers in the conspiracy theory that the president is lying about his religion and is part of a secret Muslim takeover or something like that, or (2) do not understand that “Christian” and “Muslim” are mutually exclusive categories.  For people who define a Muslim as a “brown-skinned foreigner,” and who know that Obama’s father was from Kenya (and who was, indeed, a Muslim), then of course Obama’s a Muslim.  I mean, just look at him!

Obama flag

Among other things, this makes for a more socially acceptable way to use a racial slur to describe the president. After all, it’s not socially acceptable to call him the n-word, much as some people would like to do this.

Of course, part of what’s infuriating about the “Miss America is a Muslim” rhetoric is that it demonstrates ignorance about the world. Anyone with basic knowledge of geography and culture knows that India is not located in the Middle East, and that dissimilar countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya can’t be lumped together as one homogenous group of brown-skinned people.  But it’s more than just cultural ignorance.  The “Miss America is a Muslim” rhetoric points to the birth of the term “Muslim” as a racial slur directed at an ill-defined group of brown-skinned people, some of whom of actually Muslim and some of whom are not.

Why I No Longer Love the Bachelor, or, I Give Sean and Catherine Six Months

no rose

Annnnnd we’re done.  I don’t even want to count the hours I’ve spent this year indulging in my guilty pleasure, The Bachelor.  I started this season with a long post explaining Why this Feminist Loves The Bachelor.  It’s great ironic fun, I argued.  It’s a satire of gender roles and whiteness and dating rules.

Now that this season is over, I think I may be ready to take that back.  This show is just plain sadistic.

From a feminist perspective, I don’t think that this show does a great disservice to women and gender roles (although it doesn’t exactly help). While there are certainly “true believers” who watch this show, I firmly feel the main reason The Bachelor has been so successful is because it’s so fun to mock.  If you don’t believe me, just visit the snarky, hilarious weekly Bachelor recaps by Kristen Baldwin at EW.com, and the hundreds of pithy remarks in the comments section.

So I’m not terribly worried that this show is brainwashing Americans into thinking that women need to be sniveling, powerless, male-dependent half-wits.  We know better than that.

What I am worried about is that this show messes with the minds of real contestants for the purpose of persuading them to “fall in love.”  It’s good TV when women are crying hysterically for some guy they met a few weeks ago, and this show is all about good TV.  I recently read a Psychology Today article that discusses the manipulation techniques used on The Bachelor to persuade people that they are actually in love with the stranger for whom they are competing, and it made me feel bad about actually watching this garbage.  Producer Mike Fleiss is an evil genius.

Yes, these people know what they are getting themselves into.  They are young, attractive people looking for adventure and fifteen minutes of fame.  Or so I keep telling myself.  But they also are real people who get badly hurt.  The whole premise of this show is built around rejection, which, if memory serves me correctly from my dating days, is one emotion that really, really sucks.

This week, I watched Sean turn down Lindsay at the “altar,” and she was crushed.  For real crushed.  And then I watched Sean propose to Catherine in what was, in TV terms, a beautiful proposal.  But it made me feel sad, because chances are extremely high that these two seemingly nice people don’t have a chance.  (Only three marriages have resulted in 20-plus seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.) These two people knew each other for a period of weeks before he proposed, and the day before the proposal, Sean was still saying he was equally torn between Catherine and Lindsay.  Does that sound like a solid foundation for a marriage?  Combine that with the fact that these two people apparently have nothing in common, other than being very good looking and “goofy” (or so they claim).  Catherine’s a Seattle vegan with a nose ring.  Sean’s a conservative Christian boy from Texas.  Not that people with those characteristics can’t possibly make it, but the pairing doesn’t scream “perfect match.”

I give it six months.  If that.  She strikes me as a former high school nerd who can’t believe that this “beefcake” (which she called him a zillion times) is actually into her.  Puppy love.  I predict two seriously broken hearts.  Because they do seem like unusually nice and genuine people who someone stumbled into a reality TV nightmare, I actually feel bad for them.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to give up watching this garbage.  But I didn’t get much pleasure out of watching the proposal tonight, and I think the sadistic premise of this show may finally be too much for me.

Stereotypes: Where’s the Line Between Offensive and Multicultural?

Cam Tucker and his daughter Lily from Modern Family

Cam Tucker and his daughter Lily from Modern Family

So when it comes to media representations, where’s the line between (a) humorous glimpses into a multicultural world and (b) offensive, hateful generalizations about marginalized groups? Can humor about a marginalized group actually be a healthy way of promoting diversity?

An offensive, stereotypical  "pickaninny" image of black children, popular in early 20th century ads.

An offensive, stereotypical “picaninny” image of a black child, popular in early 20th century ads.

Clearly, stereotypes can be dangerous because at their worst, they provide “evidence” that a marginalized group of people is inferior, therefore justifying the marginalization. In Nazi Germany, stereotypes about Jews were used as justification for discrimination and eventually for concentration camps. In the United States, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic silent film (and Ku Klux Klan propaganda piece) Birth of a Nation promoted stereotypes than African-American men were dangerous, corrupt rapists and thieves. These attitudes fueled the “need” for Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination.

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