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.
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and joyfully celebrated Patriot's Day, retracing the steps of Acton's minutemen as they marched to confront the British in Concord. I went to grad school in Boston, living a few blocks from where the blasts tore apart the finish line of the Marathon. My first child was born in Boston. My politics are decidedly in the best of the liberal Boston tradition. It's a place I call home, despite having lived in the Midwest for the better part of two decades. The part of me that recognizes Boston as foundational to my being is grieving over the heinous bombing of the Boston Marathon. As a mother, I grieve for the young boy who lost his life and his sister who has lost her limb, and for the others injured or killed.
As a moral, political person, I believe that terrorism is not only evil, but also ineffective and stupid. Killing innocent people who have nothing to do with the cause you are supporting is wrong. Not to mention that it doesn't work; it only creates animosity and diminishes the possibility of negotiation. Killing in the name of politics, ideology, and for the sake of gaining power (whether done by individuals or states) is wrong. I grieve that there are people in the world who believe it is better to kill than to settle disagreements through negotiation, who believe that taxes are so evil, or a piece of land so precious, or God so narrow-minded, that we should kill one another over it.
As a Muslim, I worry that the young Saudi man who was running from the scene (a sensible thing to do when another bomb might explode at any moment) has faced unwarranted scrutiny, if not outright discrimination, on the basis of his nationality and his religion. I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to the talk radio shows, the commentators on TV, and their coverage, knowing how Muslims in general are no doubt being tarred and feathered with the supposed guilt of this young man. So far, he hasn't been charged with any crime, and in this country you are innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, we long ago rejected the notion that entire families, clans, ethnicities, nationalities, or religious groups, are responsible for the actions of isolated members of that group. Even if it turns out this young man was involved in the attack, that is no justification for attacking all Muslims.
I see my fellow Muslims admitting that their first thought when they heard about the bombings was, "please don't let the perpetrator be a Muslim." This saddens me in so many ways. It speaks to the intolerance that has come to mark certain segments of American culture. To the fact that our country has permitted a hostile atmosphere to be built up around people who not only are innocent of any crime, but who are as horrified by it as the next person. It speaks of the inability of the people who are victimized by that hostility to express their solidarity with the victims of a crime they deplore... they are proscribed from the free expression of the grief they feel because they feel they must
address the collective scapegoating and potential backlash that may affect them. This is a sad way for our country to treat people.
Most sad of all, I do not see it as a particularly unique form of discrimination. For far too many Americans, all Latinos are viewed as probable illegal immigrants, and likely involved with the drug trade. All blacks are viewed as down and out, prone to violence, misogyny and fits of temper. All people of oriental background are smart and studious; even Asian jocks, like uber basketballer Jeremy Lin, graduate from Ivies. And, of course, white people are just people.
Finally, I am saddened by the lack of historicity in our analyses. People are carrying on over how violent Islam supposedly is, ignoring centuries of Christian military adventurism and ongoing intolerance on the part of many who call themselves Christian or Catholic. They overlook the violence between Tamils and Hindus, between people of different African animist traditions, between Jews and their neighbors of other faiths in Israel and the occupied territories, and pogroms carried out in the name of communism, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot.
Most important, they overlook the violence of our own country. America was founded through a war, one that I celebrated regularly as a child, one whose "terrorists" are glorified as heroes, one whose success is marked in part by the Boston Marathon. Until we accept where we came from, and how we continue to employ violence to achieve our political, economic and social aims, we are not likely to be able to break the cycle of violence or to stem the loss of innocent life.
"Law enforcement sources told CBS News a Saudi Arabian man who was being
questioned by investigators is not considered a suspect at this time,
and it appears he was a spectator who was injured in the attack." (source: http://www.local12.com/news/local/story/CNN-Boston-Marathon-Bombing-Suspect-Identified/PJFSyYjreESeP1rPphm62w.cspx ) So yes, the Saudi student who was tackled by a fellow race viewer was an innocent bystander, whose terror could only have been multiplied by the racial, ethnic and religious profiling he experienced. While it might be appropriate, I doubt the Muslim community will get an apology from those who are busy whipping up anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. People like Senator King who said we need to reexamine how we issue student visas, referring to this Saudi student in particular. (http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/345691/after-boston-congressman-urges-caution-immigration) Will Senator King extend an apology to this student? I doubt it. Will the pundits who have been raving about the Muslim threat admit they rushed to judgement. I doubt that too. How sad that a sad day in American history is made so much worse by our own actions.