Thursday, January 31, 2008

Xenophobia, An Incurable Disease?

Lately I have been mulling over a few comments made, usually in passing about my picture. It sparked the need to reexamine xenophobia and racism in modern day America, and why it won't seem to go away.

When the country wasn't even a country it was the Native Americans that caught our hatred of all things different. Then it was ever increasing minority groups, typically immigrants or slaves, coming here for opportunities (or because they were the opportunity). African Americans, Hispanics, Irish, Italians, Japanese...they all took their turn at the whipping post. So too, did homosexuals, and Pagans and Communists or Socialists.

Today, however, it's Muslims, or anyone who even looks like they might be from the Middle East really, who are being regularly whipped.

Think about this, look at my photo, and ask yourself what you see. Many people haven't said a word about it because to them, it probably doesn't matter. To some, I have been told that I look like a ninja, and as a joke at that. Others understand this is typical protest gear for a person of my political persuasion. Or that it is a social statement. The average person who doesn't know, but isn't a racist simply asks what it is, or what it means.

There have been a handful of people however, that immediately think "terrorist". This bothers me for a number of reasons, the fact that I'm not a terrorist is the least of all to boot. (I know what I am and what I stand for, thats not why it bothers me so). Part of it is that the association of terrorist is also typically paired with some derogatory epithet, such as "camel turd, camel jockey, towel head or sand n****r" and so on. So the association isn't one that is based only on appearance, but mainly on bias. I have been wracking my brain trying to come up with a viable explanation as to why this thought process is inherently racist, and what needs to be done about this. Because apparently, there are a great deal of folks out there who don't seem to understand that it is, in fact, racist. Tell me what you think about this for an explanation;

What you see - a covered face
What you know - some Muslims cover their face
What you're told - the majority of terrorists are Muslim

What you assume - a covered face means a Muslim person, and terrorists are Muslim therefore, you are a terrorist.

Why this is racist;

Not all Muslims cover their face, and not all covered faces are done so for cultural or religious reasons.

You're told that most terrorists are Muslims, not that most Muslims are terrorists. Yet, that connection is made anyway.

Therefore, you assume that a covered face means a person is Muslim, and therefore they must be a terrorist. Which positions all Muslims as terrorists, and starts the racist propaganda machine.

This, at least to me, is a major problem because it is perpetuating the "red scare" all over again, but this time aimed at a group of people who can be identified by ethnicity alone. Not to mention the fact that the red scare is still alive and well, at least in some folk's minds. It is doubly scary because otherwise intelligent people are falling for it hook, line and sinker.

Do we really need another group of people to hate? Furthermore, is hatred really that hard for people to see that it requires an explanation?


Naj said...


There is a concept called "the primacy of visual affect", that is What you see connects to your visceral centers of the brain more immediately than what you hear, and let alone what you read, especially the words.

In the 70s, some American intellectuals started taking notice of what Germans had mastered "touching your guts with visuals". Those who renegaded from Nazis and effectively built the Hollywood studios were making and still are making huge sums of profit on this very simple principle of the "primacy of visual affect."

A mask has always signified a propensity for violent protest. All terrorist groups have been wearing a mask. But the dialogue that needs to happen is not whether we brand a group of people terrorist, collectively. But "what" we brand as terrorism.

We need to focus on terrorists in Armani suits, those who wear our flag honorably and are decorated with our fondest wishes. It is "they" who have made for conditions of terrorism.

But I think your mask could also mean that you are off to a -30 C ski day in Alaska or somethin'! :)

Anok said...

Naj, yes, you're right! All of your reply is dead on....Particularly about the terrorists in Armani suits....

And for the record, it is what I wear in very cold weather LOL. It's nothing more than a ski style neck warmer and a winter hat LOL.