With recent developments of minorities being represented in a positive light, there are still groups of people whose representation needs development: Muslims and Middle Easterners.
Actress Azita Ghanizada started the Middle Eastern and North African Arts Advocacy Coalition due to the harsh representation of Muslims in entertainment media.
According to the MAAC, 3.2 percent of the U.S. population is Middle Eastern, which is about 10 million people. However, 90 percent of network TV and basic cable TV shows have no consistent MENA characters or actors. Of premium cable TV shows and streaming TV shows, 97 percent don’t have MENA regulars. Television, movies and other entertainment media being “so white” and whitewashed is a trend people are getting tired of. Black, Latino and Asian representation is on the rise and running away from stereotypes. However, Middle Eastern and MENA actors are still falling into stereotypical roles. MENA actors tend to be terrorists or tyrants. This stereotype contributes to bias against Muslims and MENA, which in turn makes news outlets report according to the fears of people. It is a cycle which must be broken to progress as a society.
It is up to the entertainment media to change this pattern. Movies and television allow us to see things we don’t get to see on a daily basis, and they educate us on the ways of the world. Opening up roles for Muslim and MENA characters which aren’t stereotypical will allow other cultures to relate to their problems, bringing more people together.
Movies and television have the power to educate and influence people. It helps normalize and teach people about things they aren’t familiar with. If the depiction in the media is negative, people will have no choice but to go along with that association. Diversity is important to individuals and society. Representation is important to many people as we consciously and unconsciously seek validation from society. We look for ourselves in our heroes. Role models of every group need to be represented in three-dimensional, positive lights.
On campus, we are fortunate to be part of an environment which does not discriminate. However, there are ways to be more inclusive to Muslim students. For example, Muslims pray five times a day. However, there are very few spaces for them to do so in a quiet area. Meanwhile, on campus, we have five lactation rooms. Personally, I have seen more Muslim students than mothers. Other ways for the campus to be more inclusive would be to have halal food for Muslim students, or acknowledge Ramadan and give support to those participating, so they do not have to feel uncomfortable during a tough time.
Instead of just accepting people who are Muslim and MENA, we need to include and embrace them. One reason people might be afraid to include Muslims and MENA in discussions is fear of being offensive due to the stereotypes perpetuated. However, it does not hurt to ask the people affected. In fact, most Muslims and MENA encourage questions and genuine curiosity.
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