Once again, it’s been a while since my last post! I had a wonderful summer interning as a business analyst with Capital One in Plano, and I’ve taken this first half of the semester to dive right into a very interesting, if hectic, start to senior year.
It’s a little crazy for me to think that this is the fourth year I’ve been keeping this blog! Time definitely flies by, and I’m having trouble believing that it will soon be time for me to leave the bubble that is college and make my way into the real world.
Fortunately, I still have some time left to enjoy OU, and part of what has made my time here great is attending various international events through this Global Engagement fellowship. My favorite events are often the lunchtime talks with different experts on various current events and areas of the world, but sadly, my class schedule this semester conflicts with all of these and I’ve had to get a little more creative.
The first event I attended this semester is a fantastic traveling exhibit in OU’s library called A is for Arab: Stereotypes in U.S. Popular Culture. This exhibit consists of a series of large displays with some photos of various negative representations of Arab people that have littered American popular culture for generations. Each large display is in the style of a children’s alphabet book, for, as the first display details, American stereotyping of Arabs can be found everywhere, including sources as seemingly-innocent as children’s books.
The exhibit strove to emphasize that even though anti-Arab and anti-Islamic sentiments have been on the rise post-9/11, these ideas are far from novel in American culture. Comics from Archie to Tarzan to Dennis the Menace have included negative Arab stereotypes, and American movies and novels have utilized such stereotypes for generations. Several of the displays detailed specific pervasive stereotypes that American culture has had a difficult time shaking.
One panel, entitled H is for Harem, outlines the ways in which the American portrayal of Arabic women is often seriously flawed and marginalizing. Arab women are rarely portrayed in American media, and when they are, they are often either hyper-sexualized or depicted as flat victims of violent oppression. There is very little accuracy in the way American media views Arab women, and this is incredibly damaging because many Americans draw their views on foreign cultures and people directly from the media. By allowing these negative (and false) stereotypes to be perpetuated, American culture perpetuates misinformation and ignorance that are extremely harmful to both race relations within the United States and the relationship that our country has with others.
In a similarly harmful vein, another of the panels in this exhibit is entitled V is for Villain, and it outlines the ways in which Arab men are so often portrayed as violent, dangerous villains, rather than as actual people. Much of American media paints Arab men with the same broad brush that in paints the women, but the men are made out to be evil, greedy, and dangerous. This is concerning for the same reason that all negative stereotypes are concerning; it breeds ignorance and mistrust, and it counteracts any hope the United States has of pursuing truly productive international relationships with Arab countries. Within our own borders, the ignorance fueled by these stereotypes makes it difficult for Arab people to assimilate into our culture, and it reinforces the idea that American prejudice against and fear of Arab people is okay.
Hopefully by now I have made it clear that I think this prejudice and fear is far from acceptable. The United States needs to work much more on eliminating stereotypes and instead viewing Arab culture and Arab people with the complexity that they possess. Broad brushstrokes are damaging and unproductive. We as a society have painted Arabs as the “other” for years, and it is time to turn the page.
It is reassuring to see exhibits such as this one focusing on educating people to this issue. Shamefully, before viewing this exhibit, I had not realized just how pervasive the negative stereotypes of Arab people were in U.S. culture, though I’m sure that any Arab-American is painfully aware. Hopefully, this exhibit can combine with an increasing number of positive, realistic portrayals of Arabs in American media to produce a positive change in American society. I know that we can rise above this hatred and fear that we have allowed to brew for so long; what we need now is to start taking our first steps.
The themes of this exhibit have significant overlaps with my honors research this semester, in which I am looking into the roots and rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. It is important to note that not all Arabs are Muslim and that not all Muslims are Arabs; these groups are far from homogenous, but we very often fail to treat them accordingly. This semester, I have been doing a lot of reading and writing over the origins of Islamophobia and their modern manifestations, and I look forward to sharing much of this in another blog post!