In the end the reactions were mixed. Some people did nothing, some people agreed with the sales clerk and others defended the actress/Muslim woman. According to ABC more than half of the reactions were as follows:
“Even though people seemed to have strong opinions on either side, more than half of the bystanders did or said absolutely nothing.”To be honest with you, I wasn’t surprised in the least. As a Muslim woman who has worn hijab in the South, the Midwest, on the West coast and in the Northeast, I’ve had a range of reactions to my presence. The most severe reaction took place while I was in line at a South Florida post office. Basically a woman who possessed a concealed weapon threatened me in front of at least ten people. No one rushed to my defense and no one called 9-1-1. In fact, no one said anything. Though I really wanted to cuss her out, I’m not a fool. The woman had a weapon on her! I elected to ignore her and quickly make my way to my car.
Anyhow, while I’m happy ABC chose to take up this topic something disturbed me during the entire time I watched it. I kept waiting for people to identify the discrimination the actress/Muslim woman faced and the apathetic responses to the discrimination as racist. It never happened. ABC chose to label the treatment as “anti-Muslim bias” or “Islamophobia.” (And don’t get me wrong here; plenty of Muslims label such behavior as ‘Islamophobic’). I personally think when we use terms like that we’re somehow softening (and taking the sting out of) very racist actions and words. We’re creating a distance between something people of color experience in their daily lives (racism) and replacing it with a term that describes discrimination against a specific group of people. Not only do terms like “anti-Muslim bias” or “Islamophobia” isolate Muslims from the larger anti-racism movements, they don’t prick at the moral consciousness of the average American in the way that terms like “racist”, “racism” or “bigot” do. (After all, it is no longer socially acceptable to be overtly racist).
ABC had a golden opportunity to address racism when they discussed how some people choose to define who is American and who is not.
"Jack Dovidio, a social psychologist at Yale University, said these men [racist men in several hidden camera scenes] seemed to define "American" based on the way people look. They connected with the sales clerk and considered our female actor an outsider. "When we as Americans feel threatened from the outside, we're going to define ourselves in very rigid fashions," Dovidio said. "Either you're with me, and if you're not really one of me, then you must be somebody else who's against me."
How about the fact that "Americanness" is often defined as "Whiteness?" And Whiteness is considered the norm. That is why some people are defining "American" based on "the way people look." Historically people of color have not been included in the definition of American. We have existed outside that definition. At one point during the show, ABC journalist John (I can't remember his last name) who is clearly a man of color, was told by one of the men who applauded the racist clerk/actor, that he is not American either.
As an African-American, I am all too familiar with racism. I know what it looks like, I know how it feels, and I know how to spot it in its smallest and simplest forms. The only thing I find surprising about the current climate of racism directed towards Muslims is how open people are about it and how socially acceptable it is. But then again, why should I be surprised? It only confirms what I have always known and what some people have been unwilling to accept or see- racism is alive and well in America...
But alhamdulillah, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There were people who entered The Czech Stop who were viciously opposed to the mistreatment of ABC's actress/Muslim woman. Some of them walked out, telling the clerk they would no longer patronize the bakery. Others stood there and argued on behalf of the actress/Muslim woman. I'm happy to know that there are people out there who will speak up when they see an injustice taking place. They gave me (the cynic) hope.
I'm curious to hear what some of you think. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by labeling discrimination we face as Islamophobic rather than racist? Why or why not?