Minorityphobia: A Letter to American Minorities


Dear Fellow Minorities,
We are not writing this piece as individuals. We are not even writing this as Brown people in America or members of the Islamic or Hindu faiths. We’re not writing this as academics or researchers or activists.
Rather, we’re writing this as minorities to all our fellow minorities in America. But we also hope that those of you in the majority are paying attention because this concerns us all.
We Have To Stop The Circular Firing Squad of Inter-Minority Prejudice and Violence Right Now
As we are living through this nasty spike in anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks, we need to keep in mind that the incidents are increasing, not decreasing, as we near the November elections. So far in 2016, there’s been an attack against Muslims in the U.S. every 13 hours. And it’s important that we realize as minorities that these attacks, which seem to target Muslim immigrants, aren’t shouldered by the American Muslim or Middle Eastern communities alone. They’re affecting other minorities too.

Last month, an Imam and his assistant were shot at point-blank range in Queens, New York as they were walking out of their mosque after prayers. The mosque’s community is largely Bangladeshi. The suspected killer, Oscar Morel, was an American of Latino ancestry and grew up Catholic. Please let that sink in for a moment. A Latino killed two Muslims in what might be considered a hate crime. Multiple news sources, have reported that the attack may have been only the latest episode in an ongoing “Muslim-Hispanic feud.” Just last week, a British Muslim woman in New York was attacked and her clothing was set afire by an unidentified person of color. The NYPD is investigating it as a hate crime.
No islamophobia, no fear politics.
In another Islamophobic attack last month, Khalid Jabara, an Arab-American was shot by his neighbor on his front porch. More disturbing is the fact that the neighbor, Vernon Majors, himself belongs to a vulnerable minority group in the United States, the LGBTQ community. Majors had frequently used racist and bigoted slurs against the Jabaras that suggested he believed they were Muslim. The Jabaras are, in fact, Christian. Majors had a history of threateningly shouting insults like “filthy Lebanese” and “dirty Arabs” (pronounced “ayy-rabs”) at the Jabaras. Clearly, he was not sure- – or all that concerned – about what shade of brown this family was, or what their religion was. He had called them “filthy Mexicans” and used the n-word. On the day he killed Khalid, Majors had been heard calling the Jabaras “dirty Arabs” and “Mooslems” – a derogatory and Islamophobic mispronunciation of “Muslims”.
While the attack itself highlights the inseparability of Islamophobia from anti-Arab sentiment, and vice versa, it also illustrates a generalized form of prejudice and violence that is simply anti-differenceAs comforting, in some ways, as it might be to blame Trump for rekindling white supremacy, the reality is that we’re also seeing that inter-minority hate is entangled in this time of increasingly public and violent racism.
In all three of these cases, members of one minority group attacked and killed members of another. Khalid, a Christian Arab, was murdered by his gay neighbor, and two Muslim clergymen in Queens were murdered by a Mexican man. It is troubling that violence committed against groups like Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs, and South Asians is sometimes carried out by other communities of color.
It should go without saying that the last group of people in this country who should be verbally or physically assaulting minorities is other minorities. How can we be doing this to each other? Inter-minority prejudice and violence makes all of us more vulnerable, not less.
The Islamophobic Violence That Hurts All of Us is Nothing New
While Islamophobic political rhetoric has been on the rise recently, attacks on Muslims or people perceived to be Muslim aren’t new. Following 9/11, Sikhs – often mistaken for Muslims because of their traditional beards and turbans – bore a large brunt of the Islamophobic violence, which has continued over the last fifteen years.
Anti-Muslim prejudice likely motivated the shooting massacre of six people at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August 2012. Several months later, Sunando Sen, a Hindu, was pushed to his death off a subway platform by a woman who said she hated Muslims and Hindus.
Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples have frequently been the source of vandalism and attempted hate crimes. Just last month, a Hindu American chef, Suthahar Subbaraj, was attacked in Omaha, Nebraska, with his alleged attacker calling him a member of ISIS.
These incidents are part of a list of attacks that is growing larger by the day. What they show is not that just Muslims in America are in trouble, but that all minorities are. While Islamophobia might have started some of these trends toward public racism, what we’re seeing now is more like minorityphobia. And if you’re a minority who believes that Trump’s Muslim ban idea might make other minorities safer, keep in mind that Trump’s vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, recently stated that a Muslim ban could apply to other groups as well.
Many American Sikhs and Hindus have already realized that singling out Muslims is not the answer. They have strongly condemned Islamophobia, understanding that the attacks on their communities are a reflection of a broad-based demonization of the other, anyone who is different. While some ethnic and faith communities are joining alliances of minorities to defend pluralism in America, more needs to be done.
Honestly, Fellow Minorities, If We Don’t Defend One Another, No One Else Will
We simply can’t afford to pick and choose whom among us we will support or forsake. We are all hurt and affected when just one of us is bullied for being her or himself or when a group of us is threatened with legal limitations on our civil liberties. We can’t wait for the Trumps and Trump supporters of the world to have a change of heart. We need to show them how it’s done standing up for one another now. Each and every single one of us, without exceptions. Because today it’s the Muslims, but tomorrow it could be you.
Nazir Harb is a senior research fellow at The Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University research project that focuses on Islamophobia. He holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in Arabic & Islamic Studies. Murali Balaji is the director of education and curricular reform at the Hindu American Foundation. He holds a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from Penn State University.
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