Real Inclusion: A separate but equal America

Ah-h-h America!! Ain’t it grand? A melting pot of different ethnic groups, cultures, and freedoms -- the promise of equal opportunity and a level playing field -- as long as you’re not Black, Asian, Latino, Jewish, East Indian, gay, poor, a woman and today, God forbid, if you’re Muslim.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Oprah: I’m happy and grateful to be a free Black woman in America!” But the events surrounding the Park 51 controversy shine a glaring light on how far we have not come. I felt as though I was looking through a rear view mirror of my past. The unspoken, but implied “no Muslims zone” and the media’s repetitive use of identity politics to hammer away at the Muslim community, strongly resembles the blatant “White only” and “Colored Only” practices that I experienced as a child in the segregated south . When I think about all of this, I couldn’t help but wonder…

“How are we defining people today? 
What are we really saying about the Muslim community? 
How will Muslims ever be able to comfortably say they are American? 
How will marketers include Muslims in advertising? 
Will Muslims ever represent the new mainstream? 
According to the 2009 government publication, Being Muslim in America, estimates of Muslims living in the US range widely from 2 million to 7 million or more, and globally is the fastest growing religion in the world.

At the same time, a 2009 Pew report revealed that nearly six in ten American adults see Muslims as being subject to discrimination, more than Mormons, Atheists or Jews. 
Qasim Basir (pronounced Ka-sim Ba-seer) is the writer and director of the soon to be released film, Mooz-Lum. It highlights the struggles of Tariq Mahdi, a Black Muslim and first year college student who is pulled between his strict Muslim upbringing by his father and the normal social life he’s never had. The movie stars popular actors Danny Glover, Nia Long , Dorian McKissack and Evan Ross as Tariq. 

I spoke with Basir who is 29, Black, and Muslim. He shared his personal agenda for creating this movie:
“In the last decade there have been constant negative portrayals of Muslims in the news and media and its been troubling me for a long time. I wrote the script in an attempt to explain the human side of Muslim people.” 
Basir, who is also a Millennial, talked openly about his own post 9/11 experiences which, interestingly, in no way, resemble the Millennial Kumbaya theories about race in America:
“After 9/11 a lot changed for Muslim people in America. It became even more difficult to travel. Post 9/11 as you can imagine has been the worst. 
When I tell people I am Muslim, they treat you differently.
“On one flight, I was in the middle seat between these two white guys. We were laughing and talking -- having a great conversation. One asked what I did and I told him: ‘I’m a film writer and director.’ They thought that was cool until we formally introduced ourselves. They asked if I was a Muslim. ‘Yes I am.’ I said proudly, and the conversation was over, just like that. “ 
Those guys missed an opportunity. They had, and were themselves, a captive audience for learning. But instead, they apparently held on to whatever mis-perceptions they have about Muslims, and shut down.

Marketers hold on to erroneous perceptions too. Remember when Dunkin Donuts pulled the ad with Rachel Ray because, according to conservative, Michelle Malkin, the scarf she was wearing looked “too Arab”? 

We can’t allow fear and the ignorance of not knowing prevent us from recognizing, learning, and seizing an opportunity. I agree with fellow Ad Age Big Tent blogger Rochelle Newman-Carrasco who criticizes marketers who believe that “progressive thinking is to look beyond race and culture.” 
It is not. (Hello Burger King!)

We must continue to examine both the commonalities and differences in order to gain a deeper contextual understanding of various cultures.

I’m all for the “new mainstream”. But we will need ethnic marketing and it’s insights for as long as society excludes, judges, and discriminates against groups of people based on their inalienable characteristics.

Qasim Basir leaves us with one final comment:

“The ideals of America are great. I love this country!” says Basir with all sincerity. “It’s the only place I could have succeeded in doing what I do. But I totally disagree with how America responds to the Muslim community. I’m hoping that (with this film), people will relate to us more, instead of portraying us as demons. 
All the best Q.
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