Learning from the Imus scandal
One of the reasons -- not the only reason -- why NBC pulled the plug on Imus last week was that African American journalists who worked at NBC and MSNBC spoke out publicly against the comments that Imus made deprecating African American women.
The National Black Journalists Association also spoke out urging its members to speak out against the comments that Imus and his sidekick Sid Rosenberg made about the African American members of the Rutgers Woman's basketball team. Imus has made racist comments in the past. But this time, he was challenged head-on by the powerful journalism lobby of the African American community.
As an Arab American, I wonder outloud, why has Imus been allowed to repeatedly slander Arab Americans and Muslims without even a reprimand? Part of the reason is that we, as Arab and Muslim American journalists, have not yet reached our professional clout. Arab American journalists are growing in numbers.
NAAJA -- the National Arab American Journalists Association, is only one of 12 Arab American journalism groups -- has more than 175 members, 60 of them listed on the http://www.naaja-us.com/ web page, and still more on the NAAJA-US@yahoogroups.com listserv.
As journalists of Arab heritage, Christian and Muslim, we have a responsibility to recognize how professional journalists can change the injustices of the world simply by being professional journalists. Simply by networking together not on the basis of politics, regional ethnic and religious identity but on the basis of the shared fate. We are Arab and Muslim. We are targets of discrimination. Our story is rarely told. We are most often seen by the mainstream media and public when Arabs and Muslims are the key characters in stories of violence, terrorism and wrongdoing.
The positive side of our community is rarely portrayed, or not portrayed enough. We can make a difference.
This isn't about personality. This is not about individual clout. This is not about differences we all do share on issues of politics, the Middle East conflict and more.
The differences we see in each other, are NOT seen by the Americans around us. Mainstream America does not see these differences. They can oftentimes not tell the difference between Palestinians or Pakistanis, Arab Christians or Arab Muslims. I am most often mistaken for a Palestinian Muslim by Americans, even when my bio states outright my personal religion.
If the society in which we live cannot see our differences, why do we insist of seeing them ourselves?
Each one of us can take something different from the Imus affair.
African Americans are engaged in a community-wide sooul searching over the issues of free speech and the use of similar, disrespectful vernacular found in African American hip-hop and rap, and African American standup comedy.
We Arab Americans and Muslim Americans and people from the Middle East need to also take something out of this controversy that helps us become stronger, more professional and helps us educate the non-Arabs and non-Muslims among whom we live in this country. I urge you to do the following:
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope to see all of you on the NAAJA list serve and hearing about all your great successes. Your achievements really do mean something not only to yourselves, but to the young people in our community starving for journalism role models and mentors, people with whom they can identify and reach out with their hands when they need help or guidance.