Students Against Othering

Mission Statement

Students Against Othering’s (SAO) mission is to educate the public about the dangers and consequences of othering, specifically in relation to Muslims and Arabs. We here at SAO hope to educate the general public about the existence of othering, and how it effects many minority groups. We hope to raise awareness through showing identifiable examples of othering, and how this is a part of everyday life for targeted minorities such as Muslims and Arabs. Our goal is to show that our differences as human beings should be celebrated, and that we as a people should work toward understanding rather than assimilation. Respect, awareness, and understanding of different cultures are vital aspects to the solution to othering. Unfortunately, othering is one of the many results of unequal power dynamics, but we hope to convince people with and without power to treat one another with respect and understanding, and therefore diminish othering worldwide.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

When Stereotypes Crash

The movie Crash takes a raw and provocative look at the stereotypes that exist in American society.  The plot revolves around people of many different backgrounds, whose individual stories all intertwine with each other’s at some point in the film.  The film exposes stereotypes that all different ethnicities- not only Caucasians- believe.  Judging, or misjudging, in most cases, someone by their appearance or their accent is the core theme of the story.  This misjudgment of people solely based on physical characteristics ‘others’ every person who doesn’t fit the standard ‘American’ stereotype, and creates binary oppositions.  Binary opposition is a cultural logic that constructs meaning through categories that are opposite and hierarchical, which in this case, is an ‘us vs. them’ opposition.  This causes many negative implications throughout the plot, sending the message to the public no not judge people solely on appearance.  All the characters portrayed in the film, while definitely flawed and quick to judge others, are inherently good people, just trying to get by.  However, their preconceived notions about people different from themselves affect not only their actions, but also the actions of the people they ‘other’.            

Some of the ethnicities portrayed in Crash include Hispanics, African-Americans, Caucasians, and Persians.  Of particular interest is the portrayal of the Persian family, who is Muslim.  The family includes a husband and wife, who wears a hijab, and their grown daughter who works as a professional in a morgue.  The husband is convinced that other people are always cheating him in business, because he does not speak fluent English.  To him, fluent or native English speakers have a certain power over him, which he does not like, and actively struggles against.  When he decides to buy a gun for protection, and is asking his daughter in Arabic about his best options, the owner of the store gets agitated, and tells him “if you want to plan the jihad, do it on your own time.”  Just because he is speaking Arabic, the shop owner assumes that he is a terrorist.  Unsurprisingly, he storms out of the store, leaving his very Americanized daughter to deal with the situation.  Although the husband angers quickly, and can be aggressive, all he wants to do is provide for his family.  He and his wife run a convenience store, and he was buying a gun to protect them. 

Later on in the film, the family’s shop is broken into, and completely ransacked.  The wife finds Arab slurs spray-painted on the walls, and questions, “Since when did Persian become Arab?”  The disparity of the family due to the destruction of their business is extremely evident, especially when the insurance company informs them that they are citing negligence, and are not covering any of the cost of the damages.  The daughter wants to help her parents, but there is only so much she can do, because she has to work as well.

The portrayal of the Muslim Persian family in Crash embodies a few strategies employed by Hollywood directors and producers that Evelyn Alsultany explores in her article ‘Representing the War on Terror in TV Dramas’.  One strategy is the challenge of the Arab/Muslim conflation.  This family, while Muslim, is not Arab, a common misconception that is even seen in the film.  Another strategy used is the sympathizing of Muslims post 9/11.  Even though the husband is aggressive man, when the family’s store is almost completely destroyed, the audience feels bad for this family that has lost everything.  They are not terrorists, they are innocent citizens participating in American society, and embody what Mahmood Mamdani calls ‘good’ Muslims- Muslims who have proven to have the American spirit within them.  This gives them a sense of power, however unseen, over 'bad' Muslims.  However, as Alsultany argues, there is a very narrow idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Muslim post 9/11, and the view of a ‘good’ Muslim is only given when they have proven themselves not as terrorists, but as people just trying to live the American dream. 

By Falina Lothamer

Works Cited
Alsultany, Evelyn, “Representing the War on Terror in TV Dramas,” International Connections, Center for International and Comparative Studies, University of Michigan, Fall 2009, 1-9.

Course Terms List, AC 498/CICS 401.  Dec. 3, 2010.

Crash.  Dir. Paul Haggis.  Perf. Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito.  Lions Gate Films, 2004.  DVD.

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