It is no longer as socially acceptable in American society to be explicitly racist as it once was. In regards to the racist history of the country, Bill O’Reilly argues, “that was then, this is now.” Even talk of a post-racial America pervades the national media from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal. As people become more educated and aware of the systemic disadvantages that minorities face in the country, the U.S. is undoubtedly moving towards more equality.
However, we are a long ways from a “colorblind” nation.
This could not be any more apparent after watching the political debates rage through the media. More often than not, the typical scene portrays a liberal and a conservative pitted against each other on issues like affirmative action, the Ferguson riots or the Trayvon Martin case.
However, the conversation about Muslim-Americans in the media proves to be even more worrisome than these. The typical back-and-forth debate is more heavily skewed towards feelings of xenophobia than acceptance. In an uncharacteristic display of racism, even liberal talk show host Bill Maher called Islam the “mother lode of bad ideas” and compared Muslims to the Mafia. With Muslims under heat in America ever since 9/11 and now with the ISIS threat, the entire religion of Islam is being depicted as a radical anti-American force to be reckoned with.
Despite the very real terrorist concerns of a small group of Muslim extremists, it is not only problematic to generalize these feelings to an entire religious group, but it sets a very dangerous precedent. Sadly, anti-Muslim feelings are so common in today’s society that there is a whole term dedicated to describing the “exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility toward Islam and Muslims”: Islamophobia.
A phobia in itself is defined as “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear.” This is not to say that fear of terrorism is illogical or inexplicable. However, being afraid of the nearly 2.75 million Muslim-Americans because of a group of extremists is very much irrational. It is also all too reminiscent of the days of government-enacted concentration camps for Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the national hysteria over the Red Scare during the Cold War. Yes, the country has corrected these wrongs of the past, but only after the suffering and subjugation of many.
As of this point in time, Muslims are the religious group most likely to have experienced racial or religious discrimination in America, with 48 percent of Muslims reporting being at the receiving end of prejudice. Even Muslim supporters who define themselves as anti-Islamophobic are being irrationally pegged as pro-ISIS.
It is not merely a matter of what the citizens of America should do anymore, but it is what we must do to prevent the perpetuation of another mass racial profiling.
The burden of this responsibility falls on those in the public eye with the power to shape the national conversations on race and Islamophobia. The very news outlets that thrive on controversy and drama of must take a good look at their intentions. The goal of journalism is not to increase page hits, but to inform. And with a 55 percent majority of Muslim-Americans who believe that coverage of Muslims and Islam by American news organizations is generally unfair, it is clear that change is needed.
The national image that the media paints of Islam is one of extremism. The least representative “fringe” groups of Islam are the ones that get the most attention in the media even though an overwhelming majority of Muslims (81 percent) say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Even the noted Muslim scholar, Imam Suhaib Webb, has expressed worry of the fate of Muslim-Americans at the hand of the distorted American public opinion. “We are being measured and weighed and determined by events that are completely outside of our hands,” he says.
It is abhorrent that such a large population of American citizens still lives in fear of what might result from the antagonistic profiling of their community at the hands of the drama-inciting mass media. The burden of this problem rests on the media to reform its distorted reporting, but it is also crucial for every American to take the sensationalized news with a healthy dose of skepticism. Although we are not a post-racial society yet, we must continue to make steps towards this by refusing to slide down a path of Islamophobic escalation.
Contact Aimee Trujullo at aimeet ‘at’ stanford.edu.