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3.11.08

The "Race"

The race...these last breathless hours. I have just returned from Charlottesville in "red" Virginia. On Halloween night, amongst other encounters in this quaint little town, I also met a Sarah Palin, walking right by the Barack Obama headquarters...she winked and was happy to pose for photographs with her dress covered in pricey Neiman Marcus tags. (picture will follow soon). Across from the Obama office also stood a young man on a chair holding up a sign with the ten commandments and asking all sinners to repent. A pubescent young man in the small crowd, asked me if I had repented-and when I told him I was a Muslim-he just stared.In a few hours Americans will probably choose a man who would be Muslim- according to the Islamic laws of patriarchy- as their President. History will be made, or not. Here are a few comments that came in after I wrote about "race" in this race on Huff. These comments may offer some clues on how post-racial this country really is (or perhaps not-given the demographic that reads Huff).

As an Asian-American who grew up largely in the East Coast and Midwest, I can definitely attest to the truth of Sharma's words. Unfortunately, whatever lip service is given to "equal rights," is also belied by action. Remember, evidence of racism does not exist merely in the form of slurs or lynching. Nor is it confined to any one socio-economic group, even if it's mostly associated with the lower middles. There are still far too many assumptions made about race: if you are X, you must be talented at this and bad at that. And there are far too many assumptions that many of us will settle for substandard treatment (driving or shopping while "black" or non-white, period). In my own experience, I have found racism most pronounced amongst upper middle and upper class whites. Many of them resent minorities moving into their neighborhoods. Many, particularly older white women, resent the presence of well- bred, well-read, and well-dressed minority women. (Which helps us understand why they hate Michelle Obama with a passion.) Like how dare a non-white be anything other than "the help!" But of course, what is most disturbing to upper middle and upper class whites is the mere mention of prejudice. (Again, which explains why they resent Michelle's thesis on race.) Jim Crow may never have existed in the North, but that mentality is as present here as it is in the South, even if less overt.

thank you, Parvez, for sparking this conversation. It seems clear to me that the concept of 'white' in the United States is always changing, and should change. as an oft-cited example, we're at least 150 years past a time when German immigrants were thought of as foreigners outside the pale of the accepted and conventional, and our definitions of what is now the cultural mainstream are radically different from the days of the Puritans and even from twenty years ago. that's the case for innate characteristics such as ethnic or national origin, native language, social or economic class, sexuality, and gender, and also for the standards on more malleable characteristics such as style of speech, dress, or gender roles. As a country, we have a long way to go - Tim Wise in his Sept 13 "This is Your Nation on White Privilege" captured a lot of the double-standards still existing in this country. But our definitions of what anyone has to conform to are opening up a lot. And that's good for everyone. I'm inescapably white - descendent of John Alden, multiple generations in the same town, the whole thing. I personally want a broader societal definition of who I can be and how I can act. I'm inescapably white, but fighting against being unbearably white. I'm voting for Obama and for change. And I've got a Obama bumpersticker on my truck, and among my neighbors in rural Pennsylvania, I'm not the only one.

This is smart, thought-provoking and broad-ranging. I come from Italian Americans and many of them are isolationaist, anti-immigration, socially conservative Republicans. They are always shocked when I tell them that when my grandparents were born (here in the States) they were not considered white. But they can't accept -- digest -- the thought because now they're on the other side of that very dangerous, malleable and culturally relative line. It's just too threatening, and of course, the price for not having to look at the constructed color line is that you have to perpetuate and shore up the color line like a dike in New Orleans. Infuriating.

It does work both ways, however--i.e., it is equally sad to me when a person of color makes a snap judgment of a white person without bothering to get to know that person's individual humanity. If this sickness is going to be cured, it will require ALL of us to look beyond surface-level appearances and to be willing to engage in deep conversations with each other. With regard to A Jihad For Love--a brilliant film that is thought-provoking on many levels--my first thought was one of profound joy that a brown Muslin and a white Jew were able to come together to engage in this collaboration in this time of such deep mistrust and divisions.

And while I certainly understand the frustration behind the comment that "there were too many White names in the credits", I think this can be turned around to look at the beauty and the hope that come from differing peoples coming together to address a certain cause (in this case, homosexuality in the Muslim religion).

In my view, questions such as "who is White" and "who is Black" do absolutely nothing to address this deeper level upon which we must all begin to communicate and connect if we hope to survive into the future.

Thanks so much for the very thoughtful article on a topic that is in serious need of deep discussion. As a white woman who is originally from the U.S. but has lived abroad (in Japan) for ten years, it still jolts me every time I return to the U.S. (or often when I am around other Americans) how much importance is given to the issue of someone's outer appearance (i.e., skin color). There is nothing sadder to me then when a person is standing face to face with someone else for the first time, and rather than being open to what this individual's particular humanity and spirit might have to offer, someone else immediately makes generalizations based upon stereotypes of that person's race. This is indicative of a deep sickness that must be cured from its roots--and yes, since White racism against people of the color is pervasive throughout history, white people bear special responsibility to take steps to correct this reality.

White Supremacy is tightly woven into the fabric of America and I am afraid, that even after Barack Obama gets elected, that fabric is unlikely to unravel, at least in my lifetime. Much like
the apartheid of caste and class in Indian society, racism in the US
breaths freely and unchecked, under the surface of supposed integration
of the races into the imaginary melting pot.

I am originally from India and have lived in the Pacific Northwest for
over 40 years. Much has changed in my lifetime. Racism that was very
overt when I first got here is now below the surface. The most
profound sea change that I have seen is the rapid increase in the
non-white population and the change in the master narrative
of what being an American means.

The world has changed. The homogenous has now been replaced by
heterogonous flavors (no pun intended here). White Supremacy will
persist, but we will have an option to build communities where class and
color are happily embraced. How do we as individuals, aid and abet the furtherance of
that deceit? Many in our own immigrant Indian communities have carried
our bigotries from the birth country and transmogrified them into a
license to practice unfettered discrimination against African Americans
in this country? Many of us like to be trophy friends in a room full of
well heeled white power brokers. When we are the only people of color
in this room, we need to question our own motives.

The stupidity of the American voters is what gave the world Bush TWICE! It's a terrible embarrassment to educated Americans to have a country run by such dolts as our electorate. Let's hope that a small percentage of them have wised up after eight years of the Bush fiasco they are responsible for, and will now want to throw the rascals they elected OUT. But I'm not holding my breath. The ignorance of the American mob truly is a wonder to behold.

I don't feel "white," although my government is now classifying me as such. North African people are now specified in the U.S. government's definition of "white," which I noticed recently. My North African ancestry was part of why I have long felt as you describe. Ever since I converted to Islam, I have not identified as white--it doesn't feel accurate, since white in this country means by default blue-eyed blonde, not olive-skinned Mediterraneans. Especially for women, the beauty and fashion industries have a default bias in favor of blondes, I never got any useful beauty advice until I found the book Latina Beauty. People who meet me see a Middle Easterner, I've been asked if I speak English, I've been told to go back where I came from, I'm frequently told "You don't look American." My official "white" classification has not shielded me from this alienation by color.

I converted to Islam many years ago after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X, in particular where Malcolm says Islam has the only solution to America's race problem. He said of the white Muslims he met during the Hajj: "The 'white' attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam." This made me an enthusiastic convert, since ending racism had been a major concern of mine since my formative years growing up during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Malcolm, bless his heart, was sort of misogynist, but he lived before feminism...

Oops in my haste to respond to foolery, I meant to type, BLACK PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE TO TAN TO BECOME BLACK. Americans are some funny, shallow, insecure creatures who will NEVEr see the error in their ways. Never.

During this election cycle, my eyes have really been opened to the amount of racism, overt and covert, that still exists in America. However, I find the characterization of fear of certain neighborhoods at 3 am as racist rather simplistic. I wouldn't feel comfortable walking through many black urban neighborhoods for two reasons: 1) statistically, urban blacks have a high poverty rate, and areas of concentrated poverty have statistically higher violent crime rates; 2) I'm Pasty McWhitey, so if someone who, following reason number one, is looking for a target, I stick out like a Yankees fan at a Red Sox game. I don't stand in fields during lightning storms either. Does that make me paranoid? No, it makes me not a complete idiot.

It"s an embarrassment and a disgrace that Obama may lose some otherwise Democratic voters because of the color of his skin. I don"t think he will lose many but as we all know from the last two elections; a candidate can lose by the slimmest margin (remarkably even after getting more votes).

Race is an issue in this country but is not the simple racism most people think it is. Most of white America is not part of the elite but rather the ordinary middle class. They don"t particularly feel they have enjoyed advantages or preferential treatment because of the color of their skin. They believe in equality; they just fear it will come at their expense (resulting in a lower standard of living for them). In a society that rewards failing CEO"s incompetence with obscene severances while the middle class gets to shoulder the burden, this fear is not unfounded. The politicians and in particular the Republicans exploit this fear. By addressing this fear the Democrats can gain far more Republican voters than they potentially would lose. Convince the white middle class that it doesn"t need to lose for disadvantaged minorities to gain and the Republican party will no longer enjoy the majority support of white middle class voters.

I agree it's sad when some refuse to vote for Obama merely because of his color. I've always been attuned to double standards since I'm a minority myself, but this election has truly hit home. There is something deeply wrong with our nation when Obama, who is much better qualified in terms of education and experience, is considered weaker than Palin. There is something wrong when the average American criticizes black teenage pregnancy but tolerates it in Palin's white teenaged daughter. And of course there's nothing wrong when the owner of a gun is a white hunter, but God forbid when it finds its way to a black person!

I thought Obama stated it well on "60 Minutes". He said that he knows some people will not vote for him because he is black, but he knows some people are voting for him only because he is black. He said it's a wash.

The two quoted sayings from the top of your post scared me - do people like these really think like this? My personal "prejudice" is that the only people thinking like this are people with practically no education and little experience with the world, narrowminded bigots having never seen enough to have their prejudices challenged. Bitter losers, in other words. Def. not human-rights-working people. (And the "prescribed medicine" against such prejudice, I've always thought, is meeting other people, getting an education, seeing the world - realizing as one goes that people are people, we're all individuals, and our personalities aren't defined by our physical features, but our psychological features.) Oh, my. Good post, though, thought-provoking.

As for Obama as a hope for the world - my impression is that huge parts of the world, black or white or brown or yellow, see him as the best candidate. Whether that means the rest of the world is better at looking beyond hues than the US is, or whether it's a sign the rest of the world can be politically correct and pretend to look beyond hues (the rest of the world can't vote in the US anyway, and so what one says in the rest of the world doesn't really matter), I can't say.

Whoa! Having a half-Irish greatgrandmother means I can call myself white, in spite of my clearly cappuchino skin color, foam not withstanding? Oops, of course, back when her mother and her father got together, Irish weren't full-count Americans either (refer to Constitutional section on how to count the Census for verification!).
How times have changed! (Hollow laugh time, folks) Well, we've had a president of Irish descent..... it's high time some of my other demographics were represented, like the black one or the Native American one. I'll save the female one for when Mrs. Obama decides to throw her Chanel hat into the ring, should she have one.

I think it is really sad. Racism is playing a small role in the election. I hope it isn't big enough to swing the election.

It seems that the economy and foreign policy has to reach total disaster before some people decide they are willing to put aside their racial fears and take a chance on moving forward.

That McCain makes so many gaffes and runs such a dishonorable campaign and that the race is still close just boggles the mind. McCain has no ideas or solutions, just pandering to whoever he can pander to in his desperate quest to win at all costs.

I think there are some people who are willfully looking for reasons not to support Obama, and will ignore anything negative campaign to do so. There might be a few Hillary holdouts who will cut off their nose to spite their face, but I think there is more racism in this country that I dared admit. I think living in a mutlicultural metropolis in a blue state has kind of blinded me to the way too many people still feel in other parts of the country.

I hope I am wrong. I wish I were wrong. But we would be naive to think that race wouldn't at least be turning away some votes that would have gone to Obama if he had been white.

Mr. Sharma--thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. You write as a citizen of the world--there are some Americans who also think this way. They are few, but I hope their numbers are growing. Generally, they are not Republican-leaning.
Here's a link to an interesting discussion of social psychology "What Makes People Vote Republican?".
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt08/haidt08_index.html
I kept thinking about it as I read your post. While conservatives may come in all shades (in their own countries)round the world, in the US they are mainly white. It comes down to three notions favoured by social conservatives according to Prof. Haidt:ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. It's the last one that Republicans have particularly taken to heart.

This is what the more worldly, more secular Democrats don't particularly understand. It may be the source of the divide in America.

The Republican Party gets shunned by minorities because of an agenda that is anti-anything that is not reflective of its base.

It's the White Supremacist Party running on the Southern Strategy of race-baiting as its principle tool of keeping poor, low-information white voters on the Republican plantation. It's no secret. If you watched the Democratic Convention and the Republican Convention it should have left no doubt which party clearly mirrors the diversity that is American society.

Generally, there are a couple of token blacks at each GOP event, and they always are situated purposefully directly behind the candidate (Bush in 2000 and '04 and McCain this election cycle) so that the viewers see them. Otherwise, the crowds are as pasty-white as they come.

Wilbur

"Does the Republican Party now represent primarily a demographic of one skin colour only?" Aside from a very few minority members, who all seem to be spokesmodels for the party, nearly everybody on it is white, despite the fact that a century asgo, the Republican Party was known as 'the party of Lincoln. Since 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party has received the majority of the white vote, and has won the Southern states in every election except when white Southern males receive the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Republicans have led the counter-attack against equal pay for minorities, equal housing, raising the minimum wage and have called for the abolition of the Department of Education and welfare. All these policies put them up against the interests of most minority voters, which has very often been a winning strategy. So to answer your question succinctly, I will adopt a Palinesque response: Yup.


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This JIHAD IS ON FIRE

September 2007 is when I started (with a finished film, my first) and now some 49 countries and 8 million people later, the whole world is talking. The movement around this work has begun worldwide. We will be screening next year around the world and yes in Muslim countries as well.

For more updates email me at parvezsharmaATgmailDOTcom and post your comments here as well.


Imam Muhsin Hendricks and his website for the Inner Circle

Director/Producer Parvez Sharma

Director/Producer Parvez Sharma
All the Breaking News around 'A Jihad for Love' is at this blog address. You can email Parvez directly at parvezsharmaATgmailDOTcom

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