Yesterday (November 4th) I had the great pleasure of being part of a panel discussing Islamophobia and the “Othering” of Muslims at Wesleyan University. It was sponsored by the Interfaith Justice League. Two professors were also a part of the panel, Dr. Ahmed, who teaches for both the Religion Dept. as well as Women and Gender Studies and Dr. Lim, an extremely articulate government professor. The questions were thought provoking and while we couldn’t have possibly answered all of them, I think enough were sufficiently answered to have students reach out and pursue more knowledge in this area.
There were many highlights to the event, but I wanted to mention one in particular which really made me think. Dr. Lim told us that one of the major problems of liberals is that they are too quick to get to the conclusion of remarks as opposed to delineating the premises. When someone says, “I’m just not ready for a black President,” we are quick to either say, “You’re a racist,” or think, “I have to respect this person’s feelings, because people are allowed to have feelings, so I will nod in understanding.” Either way, both reactions are extremely flawed. We should be pushing back and asking, “What do you mean when you say you are not ready?” Whenever people mention any type of discomfort, we should really try to find out what it is that makes them uncomfortable, because while the conclusion will be the same (racism), by having them unpack their feelings, they may be able to come to the conclusion all on their own.
What does it really mean when Juan Williams says, “I get nervous when I see Muslims wearing Muslim garb on my flight.” Let’s push him a little. Does he get nervous when he sees Muslims on the street? How does his nervousness correlate with his fear of Muslims in general? The fact that people actually defended Williams’ remarks because he’s allowed to share “his feelings” is quite frightening. Because this is racism, hidden under the cloud of feelings which usually are not associated with being a threat.
When you feel discomfort, try to unpack it. Those feelings may be a lot more powerful than you think.