Falling Into Darkness

By
May 6, 2004

We live in an increasingly “multicultural” world. The world
today is faced with many social, political, and interfaith issues.
A small act or gesture can be used or interpreted in a way that can
impact the lives of several people globally. Today globalization
has increased the power of words mediated imagery that is often
used to represent peoples and races together with the stereotypes
attached to them.

It is our responsibility to question and subvert the racial
profiling of people. That is what would make us the “liberal”
people we all wish and claim to be. Examples of such stereotypes
may include views like “all Arabs are terrorists,” “Muslims want to
destroy the Western world,” “Islam suppresses its women,” “Muslim
men are oppressive,” and so on.

Stereotypes have always existed and are not unique to the
present age. Myths have been used to characterize all races of
people at all times. The reason why stereotypes related to Islam or
Muslims have been mentioned here is only because these are the most
popular stereotypical images prevalent today. It is important to
address these misperceptions because they shape the geo-political
situation we are faced with today. We live in an era where images
of war and suppression are jostling us. Our young men and women are
fighting overseas giving up their lives and youth on wars based on
these stereotypes. Our societies are bristling with hatred and
misunderstandings based on these claims.

One might claim to be using their right of freedom of speech and
expression while endorsing such stereotypes through the use of
certain gestures or words one may use. Using one’s “freedom of
speech/ expression” in such a way may make one a “free” person but
not necessarily a liberal one. It takes more than that to liberate
one’s self and one’s mind. It takes open-mindedness, acceptance and
a clear vision. One can feel empowered by “speaking their mind”
while endorsing racial, social and religious stereotypes but only
actually be great and strong by standing above these
stereotypes.

Why is representation through media so problematic? Firstly,
there is a very thin line between freedom of speech and racism!
Such images and gestures are means of racial harassment and acts of
hatred. Secondly, these images further promote the culture of war
that surrounds us. Instead of working towards peace, one’s acts can
actually add to the vulnerability of the current geo-cultural,
political and social arena that exists.

Why should Mills be aware of such racist profiling? Mills
College claims itself to be a liberal space that welcomes all
communities. It is up to us students, faculty, staff and
administration to maintain this image that the college strives to
keep. We are in an era of technology where media plays a strong
role on our lives. Insidiously, it transfers into our sub-conscious
and conscious levels such images and words that promote
stereotypes. Muslim women have been constantly misrepresented by
the media as veiled “objects” suppressed by the Muslim male. They
are portrayed as passive victims, lacking in voice and therefore in
need of “emancipation”. Western feminists engage in “rescue”
missions to “liberalize” the Muslim women. A Muslim male is
depicted as a “terrorist” clad in his Palestinian kaffiyeh (scarf).
Such images and perceptions are widely distributed to us through
magazines, television news channels, movies, Internet sites, and so
on. Uncritical acceptance of such representations can result in us
forming wrong opinions and making ignorant statements or holding
uninformed conversations.

You ask how so? Last semester we lost several students,
including a Palestinian student and her friend; due to the racism
they encountered on campus. While the student in question faced
racial harassment for being Palestinian her friend faced verbal
harassment only for being the friend of a Palestinian girl. If we
continue to turn a blind eye to racist incidents and stereotypical
images, we will lose more students.

College is for intellectual growth, not for validating the
immaturity and ignorance. College is meant to produce students who
can guide the future generations towards a path of tolerance,
broadmindedness, justice and peace. We should make the most of our
college years to realize our dreams of a better tomorrow.

What can we do to inform ourselves from committing acts, which
can be interpreted as racist or socially unacceptable? We can
imagine the situation reversed. We can imagine someone from another
ethnic or social group depicting our people in a certain way. Only
then will we realize how painful that would be. We would be
charging others for being anti-West, anti-Semitic, anti-woman, or
for being a fundamentalist (whatever that word may mean)!


Falling Into Darkness was published on May 6, 2004 in Opinions

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