Tag Archives: race/ethnicity

“Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things”: Deconstructing Muslim Stereotypes

Many of you may have heard about NPR’s decision to fire commentator Juan Williams last week after he appeared on The O’Reilly Factor and made the following comments:

Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Williams was widely criticized for the remarks after video of his appearance showed up on a number of liberal websites, and NPR quickly fired him, arguing that his comments about Muslims discredited him as a commentator (more on that below).

Muriel Minnie Mae, Duff M., and an anonymous contributor all let us know about the site Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things, created in response to the incident. The site deconstructs the idea of “Muslim garb” by showing…well, pictures of Muslims wearing things. Examples from the site include Ismail Merchant:

Husain Abdullah:

Zeb and Haniya, Pakistani folk singers:

Siti Nurhaliza Taruddin:

Omar Fadel (in, as the website points out, the traditional Muslim fedora):

Dalia Mogahed, the sister of one of my former students:

You get the idea. New images (with awesome captions) are currently going up every few minutes, and it’s a great example of the diversity that exists among Muslims, variety that tends to get ignored in stereotypical depictions of Muslims (who are often conflated with Arabs and Middle Easterners, though the world’s largest Muslim population — over 200 million — is in Indonesia and only 20% of all  Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa).

Even in the cases where individuals are wearing something that others might identify as clearly “Muslim”, such as hijab, is it fair to say they are “identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims,” as Williams stated? Is it that Dalia, above, is stressing her Muslim identity above all else (say, more than being a professional, with the suit, or a married woman, with a wedding ring) by covering her hair? Or, perhaps, does covering her hair make individuals who are uncomfortable with Muslims unable to see her as anything but “first and foremost” a Muslim?

Side note: Since this post brings up the whole Juan Williams situation, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that a number of commentators argue Williams’s comments are being unfairly decontextualized with a selectively-edited video. If you watch the full segment, he starts out with the comments above (the only part that got widely distributed), which indicate a personal discomfort with Muslims, but goes on to disagree with O’Reilly, saying that we don’t blame all Christians for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and that the concern should be not about Muslims, but about extremists. William Saletan of Slate says,

I’m not saying Williams is the world’s most enlightened guy. He’s wrong, for example, about the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero. And it’s certainly unsettling to hear him admit that he worries when he sees Muslims in distinctive dress. But admitting such fears doesn’t make you a bigot. Sometimes, to work through your fears, you have to face them honestly. You have to think through the perils of acting on those fears. And you have to explain to others why they, too, should transcend their anxieties or resentments and treat people as individuals.

Here’s the full video, so you can judge for yourself — is Williams justifying his admitted fears, or arguing we have to work past such prejudices?

China as a Strategic Political Threat


Latoya Petersen at Racialicious highlighted an interesting campaign ad. Funded by Citizens Against Government Waste, it features a future in which China has succeeded the United States as the world’s super power. It is supposed to frighten the reader by forecasting a world in which China rules America (cue ominous music and satisfied evil chuckling).

What is interesting to me is the assumption that drives the commercial: that the U.S. should be a super power, that it is naturally so (so long as it sticks to its founding principles), and that it would be wrong for China to be more powerful than the U.S.   The idea that self-satisfied Asian people would be in charge adds racist oomph to the threat.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Columbus Day-Themed “Bros and Hos” Party at Harvard

Adrienne at Native Appropriations reports that this year Harvard University fraternity Sigma Chi threw a Columbus Day “bros and hos” party titled “Conquistabros and Navajos.” Get it?

Perhaps it’s too much to expect student in the Ivy League to be sensitive, but Harvard students are supposed to be smart, right?  Not so much.  Adrienne points out their bizarre illogic: how exactly does it make sense to have a party that mingles Navajos (from the American Southwest) with pilgrims (who lived in the American Northeast) and Conquistadors (who arrived after, not with Columbus) and cowboys (who, as we know them, would come hundreds of years later)?

And while we’re at it, why not expect them to be sensitive.  Adrienne reminds us, again, patiently…

1. Glorifying and making light of the atrocities committed by the “explorers” of the Americas is just as bad as glorifying the Nazis and the Holocaust, and not something to be taken lightly.

2. The theme is using a generic stereotype of an Indigenous person (in this case “Navajo”) to represent thousands of tribes and communities throughout the Americas, each with their own unique culture and history. The Indigenous groups who encountered the conquistadors are not remotely the same as Navajos in the southwest, and by lumping them together, the party contributes to continued stereotyping of Native peoples as one monolithic group — consisting of hollywood stereotypes of war paint, feathers, and buckskin.

3. Encouraging party goers to “dress up” as American Indians and Indigenous Peoples puts Native people in the category of a fantasy character — something that no longer exists, or never did. Columbus, Conquistadors, and Pilgrims are all situated in the past, but Native peoples are still here, are still alive, and still Native (and yes, cowboys are still alive, but they are not systematically oppressed and facing continued colonialism). It is also condoning dressing up in racial drag, and I would bet Sigma Chi might get in a little trouble if they hosted a blackface party.

But no one would do that, would they?

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Race/Ethnicity and Gender of Late Night TV Guests

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a link to an interesting breakdown of the race/ethnicity and gender of guests on a number of late-night talk shows, found at Edlundart.

Edlund explains the methodology:

The data for this graphic was gathered over 6 weeks in August and September of 2010. Numbers are based on guest lists as presented on Late Night Lineups. Determining race/ethnicity can be a rather dicey and imprecise activity, and it’s also worth noting that the relationship between census and guest numbers is not a pure one – for example, some of the guests I counted as white are British white people who are visiting the United States.

Of course, a few guests were neither White, Hispanic, Black, nor Asian. These guests were left out, as their numbers were insignificant on the whole…

Edlund also points out that since The Daily Show only has one guest per night, it has a much smaller dataset than the others, so the lack of diversity may be somewhat overstated due to such a small sample.

Here are the results for race (presented as % of all guests); the small dots show the percent in the Census, the wider bars the percent on the show:

Here is the same data but for the top-billed guests only, where the over-representation of Whites goes up even more for most of the shows:

Here’s equivalent data for women:

And, again, for just top-billed guests:

As Edlund says, these data both reflect and reinforce broader cultural patterns. Given that Whites still dominate the political system, for instance, it’s not surprising that political guests would be disproportionately White; and if more movies have male stars than female stars, guest spots will reflect that as well. But at the same time, these shows include people from a range of industries/careers, and their selection of guests helps raise the profile of some individuals more than others, potentially contributing to more opportunities and star power for them. So they don’t just reflect existing realities; they amplify them.

It would be great to get more info on how an individual is selected when there are multiple possibilities — say, you have a movie with several prominent cast members. In that case, are there patterns related to race/ethnicity and gender in which person is most likely to get booked?

Ethnic Enclaves, Linguistic Segregation, and Asian Unemployment

According to a story on NPR, Asian Americans are less likely to be unemployed than White, Black, and Hispanic Americans.  But, when they do lose a job, they remain unemployed significantly longer.

Jobless Rates by Race:

Length of Unemployment:

Why might Asians have a more difficult time finding work?  Kent Wong of  UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education explains that their extended length of unemployment can be attributed to a confluence of two realities that make their situation unique.  First,about 70% of Asian Americans are foreign born and these immigrants often live in ethnic enclaves (e.g., Chinatowns) that focus on a single industry.  So long as there is work in that industry, Asians can find work.  But, if that industry goes south, their limited network outside of those enclaves becomes a hindrance.  Meanwhile, Asians (unlike Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks) tend to be segregated by language.  Wong explains that, with about a dozen languages spoken widely in the Asian American community, pan-ethnic networks can be difficult to build and maintain.  This leads to extra difficulty finding a new job:

If you have a Vietnamese employee working for a Vietnamese employer in Little Saigon in Orange County, that does not transfer to an ability to get a job in Koreatown in Los Angeles…

Both residential and linguistic segregation, then, contribute to long periods of unemployment for Asian Americans.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. Census (1790 to today)


In this Zócalo video, sociologist Jennifer Lee discusses the social construction of race and the history of the U.S. census with NALEO’s Arturo Vargas and the L.A. Times‘ Steve Padilla:

For more on the social construction of race, see our post on race and ethnicity in censuses around the world.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Race, Criminal Records, and Getting a Job

In this video sociologist Devah Pager describes her experimental research on race, criminal records, and employment with Dalton Conley.  Using matched pairs of black and white students posing as job applicants, she finds, stunningly, that black men without a criminal record are as likely to get a call back for a job as white men with one (see the tables here).  Black men with criminal records receive call backs for only about one in 20 completed job applications.

See also our post in which one man explains the “hidden life sentence” he received after a crime 20 years past.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Racialized Fears in Campaign Ads

George H.W. Bush’s 1988 “Willie Horton” campaign ad is infamous for racializing fears of crime, encouraging stereotypes of African American men as violent and threatening. The ad is widely believed to have destroyed Michael Dukakis’s chances for winning the presidency, presenting him as soft on crime. It’s a classic example of race-baiting in political campaigns — ads that present racial/ethnic minorities as threatening. Jesse Helms took a different approach with his affirmative action ad, which draws on some Whites’ fears that they are losing out on jobs because of affirmative action.

This election cycle, a number of candidates have produced ads that clearly attempt to stoke and benefit from anti-Hispanic immigrant sentiment. Talking Points Memo posted a mailer sent out by the Yuma County, Arizona, Republican Party as part of its campaign against Democratic state Representative Rae Waters. One side shows a stop sign full of bullet holes and makes a link between immigrants and neighborhood crime:

SB 1070 is the controversial Arizona law that allows law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of people they have stopped for other violations if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they might be undocumented or not carrying the appropriate papers.

To drive the message home, the other side of the mailer contains an image of a blond child, looking a little disturbed, and again links opposition to SB 1070 to “drugs and violence”:

Here in Nevada, Senate candidate Sharon Angle is currently running this commercial that calls Harry Reid the best friend of “illegals,” who are “putting Americans’ safety and jobs at risk.”

The commercial ends with this image:

She has a second commercial that plays on the same themes:

In West Virginia, this ad against Nick Rahall, a Christian Lebanese-American, prominently displays the phrase “Arab Americans” (he chaired Arab Americans for Obama) while scary music plays in the background:

If you have other examples of racialized or anti-immigrant imagery in current campaign ads, let us know.

UPDATE: S. Elle let us know about this ad by Senator David Vitter, of Louisiana, which is very similar to the Angle commercials:

And kantmakm provided a link to this billboard outside Grand Junction, Colorado: