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Television & Prejudice

My first experiences with the media and popular culture have been mixed, I enjoy getting information and entertainment out of it but it has caused me a lot of grief as well. Being an Arab-American I have been subjugated to many kinds of prejudices directly derived from the media. Considering I grew up in a all Irish neighborhood on the south side it was especially hard, since many of the people believed what they saw on TV represented all Arabians.

My first experience with the media disrupting my life was in 1980, when the hostages were took in Iran. Even though I was only five years old I can still remember it, but I'm sure not as well my brother and sisters who are all older than me, and probably suffered more than I did. I remember watching TV and something coming on the TV and my father and mother start to yell at the TV, I remember the telephone ringing a lot to, I guess all are relatives were calling each other to make sure everyone knew what was going. However that was not the hard part, the hard part was going to school , everyone was calling me and my two sisters names like camel jockey and other names I would rather not mention. I remember by the end of the day I could not handle it anymore and got into a fight with some kid who had called me a bad name, and my parents had to come to school and pick me up, on the way home I remember crying a lot and telling my parents I didn't want to go back to school. I did not understand why people who were usually nice to me were acting this way, and my parents explained they thought we were the same kind of people who were in Iran. The hardest thing that came out of this experience for me was that I began to recognize that I was different than everyone else in my school. In the way the media, namely TV, newspapers, and movies, portray stereotypes it causes people to be aware of their racial and ethnic differences, I am not saying that this awareness did not exist before the media but I think it helped it grow. The media in this case failed to mention that Iranians were not even Arabian, and that a majority of Muslims and Arabians do not condone that kind of behavior.

After the Iran hostage situation there was a lot of negative imagery of Arabians in popular culture from womanizing sheiks to crazed terrorists. One big form of popular culture that did this in the mid eighties was movies, the movie that stood out for me during this time was Delta Force. Since it was such a big hit at the box office a lot of people saw it and came away feeling that Arabians were always the bad guys. There was some protest among the Arabian community toward the film but it did not help at all. I remember a couple of my friends went to go see it, and one of them asked were any of my relatives were in it, and I got really mad and started to hit him and my other friends were telling me to get off him but I remember being really angry and hurt that one of my friends could say something like that to me. Another similar situation was the hijacking of the Achile Laurel in the mid eighties. It was a horrible event I remember feeling sorry for the people on board, but in some way I felt more sorry for myself because I knew what I was going to have to endure at school and in my neighborhood. There was bulletins every hour on TV, and articles in the newspaper almost always on the front page. The media concentrated on the actual hijacking without taking into account the backlash against Arab-Americans, looking back on it know I don't object the way they covered the hijacking but I wish they had said not all Arabians were like that.

The Gulf War was a very big step in media coverage and attitudes toward Arabians in general. When we got involved in the gulf war I had a lot of mixed feelings mainly because I was afraid how people were going to act, and probably more important was that two of my cousins were in the Navy and were going to have to go there and fight. I remember my mother was really upset that we had gotten into a war with an Arabian Country and she was also worried about her nephews. The reason I feel that the war did not have such a backlash against Arab-Americans was that the media began showing not all Arabians were the enemy and showed the large Arab and Muslim population in the U.S. President Bush also helped the matters by making it clear that we were in the war to help another Arabian country, Kuwait. During the war I did not receive a lot of harassment from anybody, and it made me feel that things were changing. Another reason for this I think was they were showing a lot of positive images of Arabs helping Americans during the war. I knew that people were always going to look at me like an Arabian but hopefully now they would not have any negative thoughts of me until after they met me.

Even though I felt that people had begun to change their prejudices against Arabians the Oklahoma City bombing occurred and the first mention of possible suspects in the media were Arabians, they even arrested a suspicious looking man at the airport namely because he was Arabian. For the first couple of days I was mad because even I thought an Arabian did it. When I found out that it wasn't an Arabian I felt at ease but also a little disgusted with myself for condemning my own people for something there was no proof of. It shows how much me take out of popular culture when you can be convinced that your own people are criminals without any real proof. The negative images seem to die to a little bit after that incident, except for the occasional Sadam Hussein ridiculous action.

Movies always were a outlet to negative representations of Arabians and recently when the movie the "Siege" came out it concerned me. Their was a lot of advertising for the movie before it was released and I was worried that it was going to be a big hit like "Delta Force", and my nieces and nephews would have to go through the same things I did. However this time there was a large amount of protesting and information available to the public about the true nature of Arabs and Muslims. The movie was a big flop and was barely talked about after that, and that made me feel really good, because it showed definitely to me people did not have any interest in seeing an old stereotype of Arabians.

The idea behind me picking these events in my life was to show how popular culture altered my perception of media. I very rarely believe things about people from information I get from popular culture, because of my own experiences with the media. I also feel that popular culture takes it to lightly what kind of damage they could do to peoples perceptions of one another, but in the past five or six years I believe they have been getting more responsible.

February 1999

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