Hoodies, Hijabis and the Hunger Games

This article was originally published by the online edition of the Kenyon Observer

I remember in the aftermath of President Obama’s election in November 2008, many proclaimed that America was post-racial. I disagreed then and now with this assessment; it suggests that the election of a black President amounted to full eradication of racial prejudices in America. In light of recent events, I don’t think one could reasonably make that argument. Three seemingly unrelated recent events, two murders and a blockbuster movie, in addition to my involvement in Project Open Voices, have brought in sharp relief the long road that lies before us in eradicating discrimination.

As horrifying and tragic as the murders of Trayvon Martin and Shamia Alwadi are, they present an opportunity to refocus attention on issues of race, discrimination, and internal biases. In honor of ‘Social Justice Week’ here at Kenyon, I’d like to raise a few comments and challenges to our community, in the aftermath of these events.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that occasionally the Twitterverse can feel like an echo chamber. However, it can provide a compelling glimpse into aspects of popular opinions and perceptions. So when Twitter lit up with angry Hunger Games fans expressing their disappointment (so to speak) that casting agents had “made all the good characters black,” I was disturbed but not surprised.

The events surrounding Trayon Martin’s death and the subsequent investigation have been chronicled in detail by the media, an overview by TKO’s Megan Shaw can be found here. A lesser known murder occurred just last Wednesday in El Cajon, California, and is currently being investigated as a hate crime. Homemaker Shamia Alwadi was found by her seventeen year old daughter, at home, “in a pool of her own blood” after her head was beaten with a tire iron. Next to her mother’s unconscious body, the girl found a note which read, “go back to your own country. You’re a terrorist.” Alwadi and her family moved to the United States from Iraq in 1993. She was a mother of five, and was a muhajiba, a Muslim woman who chose to wear hijab, or a headscarf. Emily L Hauser writes,

“In a country in which entire police departments feel justified in spying on Muslim Americans across state lines; in a country in which entire communities, across the country, are whipped up into a froth over plans to build houses of worship; in a country in which elected officials feel free to call Muslim faith-based philanthropic events ‘pure, unadulterated evil’ — should we, in fact, be surprised that many believe ‘Muslim’ to be  synonymous with ‘terrorist’?”

The next logical question, I would hope, is, how do we stop it?

I appreciate Jon Green’s recent post, which bravely acknowledges the striking biases that permeate our society. Advocating humanism and egalitarianism over socialized stereotypes is a crucial step in the creation of a better world and more just society. He writes, “As long as I am aware that my biases exist I can consciously override them, knowing how irrational they are.” It’s a simple but noble call to action, one that could have a radical impact on the lives of many if implemented. I look forward to the day when controversial acknowledgments, like those by Geraldo Rivera and Juan Williams no longer occur, because they are overridden, “knowing how irrational they are.” Perhaps these Twitter users would feel differently about the Hunger Games movie if they were able to disassociate damaging stereotypes and biases from the story unfolding on screen, and recognize that the value of someone’s narrative, fictional or not, is not dependent on their ethnic, racial or religious identity.

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