All posts by Fatemeh

Fatemeh is currently finishing her master's degree. She currently runs a website dedicated to critiquing how Muslim women are portrayed in both Eastern and Western media.

Link Love: The White Privilege & the Ummah Carnival

Compiled by Latoya Peterson and Fatemeh Fakhraie


Rolling Ruminations has hosted a blog carnival on White Privilege and the Muslim Ummah. As regular readers know, it gets kind of heavy around here when we start discussing the intersection of race and religion. True to form, the carnival featured a range of opinions. Our favorites are below.

Ginny – Hesitant Thoughts On White Privilege

As a blind white Muslim, I just plain give up in trying to understand how I’m supposed to navigate the complex world of race, disability and religion, because no matter what I do or say, it’s always going to be viewed through the fact that I’m white, and thus everything else is seemingly minimized and seen as an attempt by me to gain some kinda street cred with POC, because “hey I’ve been discriminated just like you”, when that wasn’t even my intention, and I wouldn’t even try to say as much! Because the fact that I had to testify in a court of law to being sexually assaulted, or the fact that I had to give a detailed deposition regarding employment discrimination, or the fact that there are certain websites that are not accessible to me has nothing to do with race, and is a completely different type of discrimination altogether. Yes, I experience white privilege, and I’m sure I do so in ways I don’t realize. However, I don’t think other forms of discrimination should be passed off as nothing, though at the same time, I don’t think that they should be held up as ways that whites “understand” people of color. I’d not go so far as to say that. Because I’ll tell you right now that sighted people will never understand what it’s like to be blind. So as a white person, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be black, or anything else for that matter. All I can tell you is what it’s like to be a blind white Muslim who benefits from white privilege but doesn’t always understand how. And I’m struggling with that. This whole race thing is hard for me to understand, I’m white but I don’t know what that means, only what society tells me it means. I’m supposed to have some kinda privilege, I’m supposed to be on the upper echelons of my society but I don’t feel like it most of the time. Most of the time I feel less than, second best, not as good as. I’m made to feel that I have to work twice as hard, go twice as far, do twice as much. But oh, I’m white, so I’m supposed to have some kind of privilege. And maybe I do, it’s just hard for me to realize what or where that privilege lies.

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Boxed In: the UC system’s ethnicity representation

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

When I went to college at the University of Utah, there was no box for me to check. There was no “Middle Eastern” and there was definitely no “bi- or multi-racial.” I’d like to think that the U of U has since updated their ethnicity data, but I can’t be sure.

When I applied to graduate school, I practically wet my pants when I saw “Middle Eastern” on the online application. I was overjoyed to think that my regional ethnicity was included. I happily checked “Middle Eastern”, ignoring the line for “Other,” where I could have specified “bi-racial.”

Currently, if you fill out an application on the Oregon State University’s website, there is a drop-down box of ethnicities, with an almost exhaustive list. They divided “Middle Eastern” and “North African” to make sure all ethnicities within these groups were covered, and the lists were fairly inclusive. Hazaras, Maronites, Baluchis, and other under-represented Middle Easterners were under “Middle Eastern.”

However, there is still no option for multi- or bi-racial.

Last March, several Middle Eastern UCLA student groups began a lobby to expand the University of California application ethnicity check boxes to include ethnicities such as Arab, Persian, Afghan, etc. It’s mind-boggling that the UC system would still not have up-to-date ethnicity representation on its applications, especially since California has high concentrations of West Asian diasporas in California (they don’t call it “Tehrangeles” for nothing).

The University of California system updated its ethnicity check boxes in 2007, when the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC) started the “Count Me In!” campaign, intended to break down the different groups pushed together under the category “Asian/Pacific Islander.” The campaign successfully put 23 new ethnicities on the application, including Samoan, Pakistani, and Hmong, and aims to improve census and research data on these specific groups’ college attendance patterns, financial aid packages, and student representation.

The first thing I thought when I read about the previous campaign was, “Lots of West Asian ethnicities are technically Asian because regionally they are on Asian continent. Why weren’t any of them included in this campaign?” Erin Pangilinan, a member of the APC  campaign, stated that the campaign’s ethnicity representations were based off California Assembly Bill 295 (which included a call for “state entities that currently collect demographic data regarding the ancestry or ethnic origin of Californians to also make a separate category and tabulation for specified Asian and Chamorro, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, and Tongan”) and the 2000 U.S. Census, which stated that the aforementioned specific ethnicities have the largest populations in the United States. She stated that the campaign “was not intended to be exclusive, instead it is starting point to have a more inclusive and comprehensive admissions policy.”

The second issue that arose was that many of the “ethnicities” on the list were not actually ethnicities, but nationalities (Pakistani, Taiwanese, etc). Pangilinan explained that the campaign focused on ethnicities provided by the Census, which brings up more questions about ethnic representation in governmental processes. Constructing nationalities as synonymous with ethnicities creates troubling deficiencies in ethnic representation within nations, erringly homogenizing the ethnic populace.

This led me to question the inclusivity and strategy of the current campaign. I spoke with Faisal Attrache from UCLA’s United Arab Society. He said that the campaign is not aiming for a “Middle Eastern” designation: “We are attempting to gain representation of Middle Eastern minorities, but we do not want it to be under the heading of ‘Middle Eastern’ for many reasons.  It is a term with an unclear meaning and sometimes excludes several groups that we would like to include in the campaign. Ideally, we would like all the categories to standalone and not be grouped under ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘Near Eastern’, because after all, the region we represent stretches from Central Asia to Western Africa.”

The campaign’s aim at a designation other than “Middle Eastern” is a relief: “Middle Eastern” is a term that’s left over from the colonial period, and is fairly misleading ethnically. “West Asian” includes much of the Middle East, including Arabs, but leaves out North Africa, a region which is heavily ethnically Arab. But I do have a fair skepticism at the stand-alone designations: if every other group has overarching categories, these ethnicities will most likely have one, too.

While I’m overjoyed that we (meaning underrepresented West Asian groups) might finally be included on the applications, I still worry about all those who aren’t being represented, and won’t be unless they lobby (or someone lobbies for them). Attrache mentioned that student groups at UCLA representing these ethnicities coordinate the campaign, and so Arab, Persian, Afghan, Armenian, and Assyrian students will be included. But no conclusive list has been agreed upon at this time, and so it’s difficult to say whether ethnicities that don’t have a large student presence on campus will be represented accurately or at all, especially if they are a significant minority in their home region. Because of the numerous and varied ethnicities in these regions, it’s almost certain that someone will get left out, which feels wrong in the current “We’re here, we’re [insert ethnicity], get used to us!” climate.

There’s also the fact that the box system itself is flawed, not just because of any possible lacks in representation, but because it historically leaves out bi- and multi-racial individuals. While the bi- or multi-racial designation could appear with a line for clarification, universities that use a drop-down box format have no way of collecting data about bi- or multi-racial students because the students cannot specify their racial makeup.

A blank line would illustrate better how people define themselves through their ethnicities and would be less likely to pigeonhole respondents into a group they don’t feel they identify with. It would also be welcoming for bi- or multi-racial students (much better than check all that apply).

The difficult logistics aside, this is an important campaign, just like it was two years ago. Not only will it give university statisticians and financial aid operators a better idea of the population indicators, but it can help the community at large gauge where it is on the local university scale in terms of representation, participation, and inclusion. It may also lead to an overall overhaul of the ethnicity system, recognizing differences among ethnicities under other categories previously bunched together (“Hispanic”, anyone?) and inaccurately represented.

Hoagland’s Hogwash: Islamophobia in the Washington Post

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Jim Hoagland’s April 12, 2009 article for The Washington Post, entitled “The War Within Islam,” is the best example of “journalistic” Islamophobia I’ve seen in a reputable news source in quite a while. Hoagland has written for The Washington Post for several years, and his focus is on both national and international politics.

But in all his time at the Post, this is the first time he’s ever shown editorial concern for Muslim women. In fact, it’s only the second time he’s focused on Muslim women at all: in 2005, he wrote about the gains that Iraqi women gained in the 2005 elections. These two articles alone reflect a heavy-handed political paternalism that is amplified when he discusses the position of women in predominately Muslim societies. Get ready to see some serious faking concern for women to mask and justify martial occupation!

On a serious note, Hoagland opens by describing the recent video of a Pakistani girl being publicly whipped. This was a horrific occurrence, and no one should be made to suffer this way, publicly or privately. But Hoagland’s use of this video to illustrate the “brutality” of the local Taliban is misplaced because he ends up casting an illustrative net so wide that it catches all Muslim and Southwest Asian men, dehumanizing all instead of only a few. Which one is worse, I’m not sure. Continue reading

Links – 2009-04-13

Compiled by Latoya Peterson and Fatemeh Fakhraie

Sepia Mutiny responds to Raakhee Mirchandani’s article in the New York Post about dating inside the race.

The Los Angeles Times reports on how Middle Eastern students at UCLA want alternatives to “white” or “other” when filling out demography boxes on applications. KABOBfest weighs in.

Renee Martin writes about Madonna and Malawi for GlobalComment.

Sonny Caberwal is the world’s first Sikh supermodel, making his debut in GQ‘s Spring-Summer style issue. Hawt.

“Arab in America”, a short documentary about being…uh…Arab in America…won the Link TV contest’s grand prize.

LAT also discusses Middle Eastern rappers.

Black Enterprise takes on the NEWBOs – and tells CNBC where to shove it.

This is why we hate x is the new y comparisons. Here’s one: Is Fatism the New Racism? Meanwhile, played out ass racism is still in effect. Can there be a new x if the y is still a major issue?

Amalgamated at Vegans of Color asks “What experiences of rejection (as a person of color/against people of color) have you experiences/witnessed in (mainstream white) vegan communities?

The Supreme Court has released an opinion in regards to “the United States v. Navajo Nation (07-1410), on Indian coal lease amendments. The decision below, which held for the Indian tribe, is reversed and remanded in a unanimous opinion by Justice Scalia, available here. Justice Souter filed a concurring opinion joined by Justice Stevens.”

There is an interesting (and somewhat heated) conversation going on at What About Our Daughters on “divestment” and “ark building.” This is based on some posts over at Black Women Blow the Trumpet. Seattle Slim has a dissenting opinion.

Off-Topic, but worth a look

Piny over at Feministe provides an interesting piece on the fetishization of trans people. Good links are in the comments.

Marge Twain blogs about that horrific Tough Love scene I mentioned where the host said a woman behaving in a sexually forward manner will “end up raped” and the lack of fallout both on the show and in the online community.

Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings provides an answer to the oft-posed question when conversations surrounding DV begin: Why Do They Stay?

Links – 2009-03-23

Compiled by Latoya Peterson

The Daily Beast – Obama’s ‘Third Culture’ Team

John Quincy Adams lived in France, and young Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Europe often enough to master French and German, but Barack Obama is the first modern American president to have spent some of his formative years outside the United States. It is a trait he shares with several appointees to the new administration: White House advisor Valerie Jarrett was a child in Tehran and London, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was raised in east Africa, India, Thailand, China and Japan as the son of a Ford Foundation executive, and National Security Advisor James L. Jones was raised in Paris. (Also, Bill Richardson, tipped as Secretary of Commerce, grew up in Mexico City.) [...]

This is more than a trivial coincidence. So-called “Third Culture Kids”—and the adults they become”—share certain emotional and psychological traits that may exert great influence in the new administration. According to a body of sociological literature devoted to children who spend a portion of their developmental years outside their “passport country,” the classic profile of a “TCK” is someone with a global perspective who is socially adaptable and intellectually flexible. He or she is quick to think outside the box and can appreciate and reconcile different points of view. Beyond whatever diversity in background or appearance a TCK may bring to the party, there is a diversity of thought as well.

The F-word.org – New Study Refutes Bulimia as “Rich, White Girl’s Disease”

Eating disorders are often thought to be a “rich white girl’s disease,” but a new study shows that black girls and girls from low-income families are more likely to develop bulimia than their wealthier white counterparts. The study is based on information from a government database of 2,300 girls from schools in California, Ohio and Washington D.C. The girls were surveyed annually about their eating habits and body image between the ages of 9 and 20. The study included an equal number of blacks and whites.

About 2.6 percent of black girls were found to be bulimic, compared to 1.7 percent of whites. Bulimia affected 3.3 percent of girls whose parents had a high school education, compared to 1.5 percent of girls in households where at least one parent had a college degree. In other words, black girls are 50 percent more likely than whites to develop bulimia, while girls in low income brackets are 153 percent more likely to develop bulimia than girls in the highest income bracket.


Real Media Ethics – The Usage Panel: “Illegal Immigrant”

“Illegal aliens” and “illegals” are two answers that can be dispensed with pretty easily. When used in journalism, the legal term “aliens” suggests an exaggerated sense of strangeness, and the connotation with martians is unavoidable. Although it’s relatively rare to find uses of “illegal aliens” in major news organizations (cable news, as always, excepted), except in quotes, a quick Google news search found numerous examples from local news organizations. “Illegals” dehumanizes, defining a diverse group of people by one (negative) characteristic by employing the reductive practice of noun-ifying an adjective. In a 2006 press release addressing immigration terminology, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists states that “using ["illegals"] in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed.” “Illegals” is increasingly unusual even in headlines (where more accurate and ethical, but longer, phrases are sometimes eschewed for space considerations), though the AP seems to have few scruples about using the word, in headlines, the body of a story, or both. I don’t know how much control publications that use AP stories have over style issues like that, but it would be interesting to know to what extent they are allowed to impose their own style guildelines.

The interesting question for me is whether “illegal immigrant” is an ethical/accurate way to refer to people who enter or reside in the country illegally.

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Links – 2009-03-20

Compiled by Fatemeh Fakhraie and Latoya Peterson

A high school in Pennsylvania banned students from wearing the keffiyeh after an escalation of tensions between Jewish and Muslim students. After a few days, the high school rescinded the ban.

Speaking of clothing issues, Urban Outfitters has done it again with new levels of offensive appropriation: the Allah bracelet. Uh-huh.

Ghostface Killa releases a track in support of Rihanna and victims of domestic violence.

ABC has given the green light for a sitcom pilot based on Firoozeh Dumas’ book Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America.

GetReligion discusses Tyler Perry’s black female demographic.

Danish students will be getting some diversity in their literature classes: a new textbook will focus on literature that comes to Denmark from its immigrants’ countries of origin, including Somalia, Croatia, Iraq, etc.

Ali Eteraz looks at the Pakistani diaspora and its issues.

The Boston Globe looks at the dangers of losing “ethnic media.”

The Root also discusses the changing face of newsrooms in their “Broadsheetless in Seattle” piece.

For Tahirih Brown, an editor at the Seattle P-I for more than five years, newspapers have reduced their opportunities for non-white journalists.

“When I started in journalism in the early ’90s, the big change was diversity—making the newsroom look more like the community they were covering,” she said Tuesday night, at the raucous P-I farewell at Buckley’s, the paper’s unofficial watering hole. “And I feel that in the past couple of years, that’s kind of gone by the wayside. There are some stories that just aren’t going to ever get told because of a lack of diversity in newsrooms in general.”

KABOBfest takes a look at Arabs in Hollywood: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The discovery of the remains of Cleopatra’s sister sheds new light on their ethnicities.

Losing My Religion

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.

I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.

AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.

The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.

Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:

Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.

The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading

ALO Again: New Lifestyle Magazine More of the Same Old Orientalism

By Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. An expanded version of this piece can be found at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last summer saw the launch of ALO Hayati, “America’s Top Middle Eastern Lifestyle Magazine.” Thanks to a gracious donor, I finally got my hands on a copy of the July 2008 issue.

All lifestyle magazines have an aspirational feel to them, and this one was no different. Chock full of advertisements for Dubai hotels and Swiss watches, ALO wasn’t particularly different than any other lifestyle magazine. Considering the economic situation of magazines, it doesn’t seem like an incredibly auspicious time to launch one aimed at a materialistic lifestyle. I wasn’t able to find any updates about the magazine’s publication on the website, and as far as I’m aware, this is the only edition, though in the magazine they refer to an earlier issue in some places.

As someone who enjoys a good glossy every now and then, I delighted over advertisements with Kim Kardashian, and interview with exclusive designer Bijan, and a fluffy piece on intercultural relationships (though I did not care for the cover teaser: “Shocking Intercultural Stories”).

The magazine featured an interview with Leila Ahmed, which was a great one, likening the current western media representation of Muslim women to the same patronizing Orientalism that played out in the first wave of colonialism in Middle East. Her interview shed lots of light on the history and future of the headscarf. Despite the educational qualities of her interview, I kept thinking, “Who is this educating?”

While not every Middle Eastern person is going to be familiar with the history behind the headscarf, it seems sort of odd to have an educational feature about hijab in a magazine aimed at a demographic that has a fairly lengthy history with headscarves, even if many of them aren’t Muslim. Something about this piece tugged at me. It almost felt as if it was aimed at people who were not Middle Eastern. Continue reading