White, Muslim and Privileged
Tim Wise writes about the Boston Marathon Bombing, racism and white privilege
saying that evidence of white privilege is rampant in the wake of the bombings. I can't agree more.
As a Muslim, I dread the notion that the bomber may turn out to be a Muslim, and that all Muslims will be tarred and feathered as a result. I worry that innocent people may experience violence, harassment, prejudice, hatred and bigotry against them on the basis of the actions of a single individual or a small group. Even more, I worry that Muslims will be blamed (as they already have been by many tv and radio hosts) and that even if a Muslim didn't do it, fellow Muslims will suffer rude remarks and perhaps harassment because of the irresponsible speech of people out to make a buck.
I worry about the impact on my kids, who are growing up as a member of a minority which right wing talk hosts jump to declare guilty at the drop of a hat, and about whom they have no compunction to say outrageous things like, "kill them all
."I worry that elected officials who ought to uphold the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution are trying to make our religious practice illegal via anti-shariah laws
and express the need for tough immigration laws in terms of keeping out Arabs or Pakistanis or Muslims
in general . I worry that this atmosphere of hostility will warp their self-image and damage their self-confidence, ruin the carefree surety of safety which all children need to thrive, and destroy their sense of the goodness of humankind and of America. And I worry how constantly being on the defensive affects not only my kids, but the entire Muslim community. How it changes the dialogue about what it means to be a Muslim. How it pollutes our ability to grieve over terrible events like 9-11 or the Boston Marathon Bombing. How it hampers us from being able to challenge extremists from within the religion.
As a white person, I do not have those fears... I know that if a white person or group carried out the bombings, I don't have to worry that I or other white people will face bigotry, discrimination, hatred, harassment or violence as a person similar in some way to the person who committed this act of terrorism. I do not worry that all white people will be viewed with suspicion, that police will stop white people driving through Boston or traveling through airports at higher rates in the near future, or that my country of origin may face drone strikes as a result of the actions of extremists and the inability (or unwillingness) of the government to do anything about those extremists. (Unwillingness demonstrated by things like the recent failure to expand background checks for those who wish to purchase guns...think how we would react to such a failure in Pakistan or Afghanistan...). I do not worry that talk show hosts will rant about the evilness of white people and/or our beliefs. If I were Christian or Jewish, I wouldn't worry that the acts of a single extremist group or individual would be attributed to everyone in my religion.
Even more, as a white Muslim I know that I am largely immune to the discrimination and potential violence that looms over my co-coreligionists who "look Muslim" (ie have brown skin, especially those who "dress Muslim"). I know that when I go through the airport, with or without a scarf on my head, the security people will not look at me with extra attention. Unlike my brown brothers and sisters I am never selected for additional screening, and have never faced questioning when returning from abroad for Muslim conferences and events, even though my co-workers and friends have regularly faced such things. During the 25 years that I wore a headscarf, people mostly assumed I was Amish or Mennonite or a nun (even when I was 9 months pregnant I had people coming up and asking me what order I belonged to!). If they recognized me as Muslim, they assumed I was a "different" sort of Muslim. They engaged me with curiosity and respect. I can count the times people were gratuitously rude to me in the grocery store or other public spaces because of my Muslim identity on one hand, indeed on one finger. Perhaps most telling, as a white Muslim, my fears around the Boston bombing are not for myself or even my mixed-race children, who easily pass as white, but for my friends who have darker skin, or who speak with an accent.
This more than anything hammers home the racial nature of the prejudice Muslims face in this country.