Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 21 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Politics of Naming Minorities 


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 21 seconds

In response to my recent post “Ask Me My Race ONE More Time!” I got these tweets:

So here are a few ways (I am sure someone wrote about this more extensively before) I notice identity naming being used, or not, for political purposes:

  1. When a criminal commits a crime, and they are Muslim, in the West, their Muslim-ness becomes a key aspect of their identity, regardless of whether they explicitly claimed to commit the crime in the name of Islam or not. I wonder if altogether particular crimes are automatically suspected to have been committed by Muslims? In any case, the West are hyperaware of this category of people, but in forms, fail to provide space for people who are Muslim and of non-white/black race/ethnicity (I would argue a lot of Muslims are Arab or Pakistani/Afghan or such – where are those categories?)
  2. Calling a population “indigenous” implies their historical right to land. A recent Avaaz call referred to Palestinians as “indigenous”. This is a very political (and probably controversial?) choice, as I am assuming Israel is founded on the historical right of Jewish people to this land based on ancestors born there. (I have yet to understand how this is the Palestinians’ fault – it seems to me like a parallel to punishing present-day Germans for the crimes of the Holocaust. Oh wait. They punished the Palestinians for the crimes of the Holocaust.!?!? I am sure I don’t have a full grasp of this situation, and that I grew up supporting one side of this conflict, so I don’t claim to be unbiased). 
  3. While studying my PhD and learning about dimensions of critical pedagogy such as racism, sexism, etc., I was interested in discovering postcolonialism as a lens of critical social science, but that its -ism denoted a lens rather than a form of discriminatory practices. Why is there anti-Semitism (which implies discriminatory practice) but Islamophobia (which denotes a fear that may or may not be justified). I feel that as long as we use the term Islamophobia instead of anti-Muslim behavior, it will seem that we don’t consider Islamophobia to be unjustified. Same applies for homophobia. Sure, an irrational fear of gay people, but calling it a phobia makes it seem like the person can’t help themselves, like it’s a mental state beyond their control, rather than a conscious choice to view a category of humans as “less”. Because a phobia is a “disorder” beyond the person’s control, a fear. When in reality, a better characterization of Islamophobia and homophobia is an irrational hatred beyond fear which is heavily influenced by society and media and therefore preventable. Psychiatric understanding of phobias is they’re sometimes triggered by a situation (I know they aren’t always) and sometimes treated by exposure to the source of fear. Does anyone actually TRY to “treat” Islamophobia or homophobia by exposure? Not in any medical sense, but this is always what I have called for. The best way for someone to not fear the “other” irrationally is to have firsthand experience, in-depth,with people from that cultural group. Because in society as a whole, most Muslim and gay people aren’t harmful to anyone and are mostly good people.(sorry to categorize these two together specifically, knowing they are sooo contextually different – it just so happens they both are called phobias, and they are both mostly unjustified for different reasons – I don’t actually know why, beyond religious intolerance, people have homophobia; I have more empathy for Islamophobia for people who know no Muslims beyond media on terrorism). I also think the term phobia hides the political power people harboring this hatred based on fear have. Homophobia isn’t a personal problem – it’s a problem that causes people to infringe on the rights of others. So rather than homophobia, we should call it anti-LGBTQ rights, or something. 

I may be off-base here. What do you think? 

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