The temper of the nation

It’s ugly, and I blame the Republicans, especially the Tea Party and Trump fans, the latest incarnation of our nativist know-nothings. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has run a personal account of an encounter with one of those assholes.

It was my first Minnesota Vikings game and my first NFL game. I am not new to football, though. As an undergrad at Boston College, I went to many Eagles games, and I played junior varsity football. I knew what to expect on the field. I was excited, and, as I found my seat, I thought about bringing my family to a game in the new stadium.

What I didn’t expect was for a man to push aside other people and point his finger in my face, demanding to know if I was a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.

I was stunned. He didn’t know anything about me. We were complete strangers. But somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.

He didn’t know that I have lived in Minnesota for the past four years, that I was born and raised in New York and that the words “Never Forget” may mean more to me than to him. He didn’t know that when I went home and my children jumped on top of me and asked “How was the game?” that I’d be holding back tears as I told them about racism instead of touchdowns. He didn’t know that I am an attorney and the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program at the Advocates for Human Rights.

Let’s not whitewash this any more. I used to think islamophobia was a silly concept, that thinking Islam was a wretched, stupid belief was entirely rational. But what I’m seeing over and over is that rejection of a false belief is largely a pretense for many of these people, and really they’re just looking for an excuse to rage against people of Middle Eastern descent.

But here’s an antidote: a British soldier who lost a leg in Iraq writes about Muslim people as complicated human beings. We need to prioritize those voices over those of resentful bigots at football games and Trump rallies.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The British soldier certainly understands the situation. To bad many others can’t take that step back look at something beyond their fear and bigotry.

    Those who purposely interfere with people in wheelchairs and the people helping them, show themselves in a very bad light.

  2. The Other Lance says

    Speaking of whitewashing, the comments on that article are a spectacular example. Almost no one takes the article at face value, questioning whether it “really happened that way”. Buh. The GOP, Tea Party, and Trumpers have gotten exactly what they wanted.

  3. starfleetdude says

    Closer to home, here’s someone else who understands the situation:

    Aaron Rodgers Calls Out Fan Who Shouted Anti-Muslim Slur During Moment of Silence

    Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers publicly called out the fan who made the remark during his postgame press conference, .

    “I think it’s important to do things like [the moment of silence]. We’re a connected world, you know — six degrees of separation,” he said. “I must admit, though, I was very disappointed with whoever the fan was who made a comment that I thought was really inappropriate, during the moment of silence. It’s that kind of prejudicial ideology that I think puts us in the position that we’re in today, as a world.”

    Wish the Vikings would have done the same.

  4. says

    What I take away from the encounter described at the stadium is that some people love to hate, they live to hate. It almost doesn’t matter if they join Trump in hating Mexicans one day and then switch to hating Muslims (or refugees from Syria) the next day.

    The urgent, important focus of their day is having someone to hate.

  5. quotetheunquote says

    Crikey! that Chris Herbert is brilliant. And very courageous. Thanks for pointing to that, PZ.

  6. says

    But somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.

    I’m sure the Harris fans will be along shortly to explainto us that this is unpossible because islam isn’T a race…

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    we need a better definition of “race”, that includes more than just ethnicity [if that’s similar, IDK]. What I mean is “*race” to be synonym for “category”. Such as the category of Muslims being the *race, atheist = *race, gawdthumpers = * race, etc. Any attitude for or against any particular category, in generalization form, would fall under the *racism label.
    [off to sumbit that proposal to OED, brb]

  8. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @8:
    got me! Your comment about scrolling down to comments in the linked article lured me to inspect them also. I share your disgust at the insults and refugee-phobia. I came here to onc again comment on the common misunderstanding of the 1st amendment.
    The Constitution, in general, are the rules we used to create the government and the rules defining the government’s operation. 1st amendment is a rule for the government: to make no law that restricts free speech. It is not a law forbidding people from objecting to someone else’s speech, nor forbidding restrictions on speech patterns in a private facility. once again, the Constitution is laws on the government’s behavior, not the people’s behavior (which is ruled by ‘common law’). For people to justify rude speech with “1st Amendment right”, is totally misunderstanding the nature of the Amendment.
    umm, thank you for your patience, letting me rant a little. i’ll be back…

  9. Zeppelin says

    @slithey tove: I don’t think it’s a good idea to use the term “race” if it can be avoided, honestly. It refers to a social construct that’s not even particularly applicable for all Western countries, much less the whole world. I’d try to use more precise terms like “ethnicity” or “subculture” or “group” or whatever, unless I’m talking about someone else’s conception of “race”.

    I remember some documentary by a French filmmaker who goes to dreadful places like warzones and prisons and neonazi enclaves, where he went to some impoverished ghetto-type area somewhere in the US to talk to some black gang members (iirc. They may just have been regular locals and my memory is being racist). They were reluctant to talk to him at first, but when he opened his mouth and they heard his French accent one of them said “It’s okay, he’s not white, he’s European!”.

    Conversely I’ve talked to a (presumed “white”) American who refused to believe that Germans could be racist against Russians because to him, both those ethnicities are “white people”, with no internal distinctions. Which from a German perspective is bizarre — they’re clearly distinct ethnicities, they look different… And so on. No German racist wants to save the “white race” as Americans conceive of it. I’m “white” by American standards, but I don’t think of myself as “white” or “European”, I’m German. In Germany you get “being able to pass for ethnically German” privilege, not “white privilege” (though you do need light skin to pass, obviously), followed by “respectable Western ethnicity” privilege, and so on, with “all those uncivilised black people whose countries I can’t find on a map” at the bottom of the pecking order.

    I guess it’s tricky to talk about racism in an American context AND avoid further reifying those social constructs by using them, without tying oneself in rhetorical knots :/ I mean, just look at how long I’ve rambled on.

  10. blf says

    jacksprocket@13, Aberdeen Scotland? My guess is teh trum-prat got an honorary degree because he has done some “investing” in Scotland (read: throwing people off their land and building a golf course). There are some appalling stories about his behaviour and the deals he allegedly struck.

  11. quotetheunquote says

    blf @14: You beat me to it. I’m pretty sure that is the case. It was a disgrace, how some people kowtowed to him.

  12. says

    @11 – slithey

    Maybe my browser is on drugs, but now it looks like the Star Tribune turned off the comments section on that article. Good for them. I always picture these racist shits having red-faced tantrums at disabled comment sections on YouTube or on a newspaper website.

  13. cmutter says

    I think a lot of these people conflate Muslim and Arab, and so African Muslims or Lebanese Christians would be met with bafflement. See: Trump and Muhammad Ali, or the lady at the town-hall debate in 2008 who told McCain she didn’t trust Obama because he was “Arab”.

  14. mnb0 says

    “I used to think islamophobia was a silly concept, that thinking Islam was a wretched, stupid belief was entirely rational.”
    Oh, but claiming that islam is a wretched etc. can be entirely rational (and my female counterpart is a muslima, so I have a personal interest). That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct, but that’s not the issue. It’s really simple. Phobia means irrational fear. Islamophobia hence means irrational fear of muslims. The story provides a prime example.
    Sam Harris is a bit more complicated (but not that much), but his pleas for “muslim profiling” are islamophobic as well. You have pointed out the irrationality yourself and obviously it’s based on fear for muslims.

  15. blf says

    Teh trum-prat and Scotland: This is from memory, but there is(? was?) a proposal to build an off-shore windfarm visible from teh trum-prat’s golf course. He, of course, objected, it would spoil the view he “bought” or somesuch gibberish. Not sure what the current situation is…

  16. raven says

    jacksprocket@13, Aberdeen Scotland?

    Trump’s mother is from Scotland. His first and third wives are immigrants, #3 being Slovenian.

    Trump hates immigrants except for his mother and his wives.

  17. blf says

    Yeah, teh trum-prat got his now-revoked honorary degree because of his “investments” in Scotland, Statement about Donald Trump’s honorary degree (warning: twitter!), and (BBC in 2010) Degree returned over Donald Trump’s RGU award:

    The former principal of an Aberdeen university has handed back an honorary degree in protest at a similar award being given to Donald Trump.

    Dr David Kennedy, principal of Robert Gordon University (RGU) between 1987-97, said he was “appalled” at plans to honour the US tycoon next month [Oct-2010].

    Mr Trump’s plans to build the “world’s greatest golf course” in Aberdeenshire have proven divisive in the north east.

    Dr Kennedy returned the honorary doctorate which he received in 1999.

    He described the decision to give Mr Trump an honorary doctorate as “an insult to decent people everywhere”.

    Dr Kennedy said: “Mr Trump is simply not a suitable person to be given an honorary degree and he should not be held up as an example of how to conduct business.

    “Mr Trump’s behaviour in north-east Scotland has been deplorable from the first, particularly in how he has treated his neighbours.”


    The university said the honour recognised his “business acumen” and his company’s commitment to the north east of Scotland.


    Mr Trump has divided opinion after vowing to build the “world’s greatest golf course” […]

    Kudos to Dr Kennedy.

  18. Matrim says

    I am never shocked when I hear about or see public displays of bigotry. I work with people who have disabilities, right now it’s mostly folks with mental illness, but I began my career working with folks who have profound autism, intellectual disabilities, and brain injuries. I don’t think a week went by without someone, apropos of nothing, approaching me and the people I support for the express purpose of harassing them. I can’t count the number of times we were out in public and someone would just scream “retard” from across the mall or whatever. It was shocking at first, now it’s just an angering fact of life. It saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me at all that analogous things happen in the context of racism.

  19. hiddenheart says

    Zeppelin@12: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to use the term “race” if it can be avoided, honestly. It refers to a social construct that’s not even particularly applicable for all Western countries, much less the whole world.” On the other hand, I favor racism to refer to beliefs and actions structured as if those categories were real, because they’re real in the minds of the haters. We can include in our responses the fact that those categories don’t actually refer to anything in reality, along with the fact that they’d be bad responses even if the categories were real.

  20. Moggie says

    Robert Westbrook:

    I always picture these racist shits having red-faced tantrums at disabled comment sections on YouTube or on a newspaper website.

    They tend to just show up in an unrelated comment thread on the same site and rant about their freeze peach being denied.

  21. says

    Those who purposely interfere with people in wheelchairs and the people helping them, show themselves in a very bad light.

    Right up there with those people who are overly helpful and “help” you right into taking a bad fall. Or — and this one really grates on my nerves — talk to you like you’re five, because (somehow) being disabled precludes one from interacting as an adult equal.

  22. johnlee says

    It’s funny, though. There are immigrants and immigrants.
    I’m from the UK, but I have lived in Spain for most of my life. Although I speak fluent Spanish, I have a noticeable accent, and my strange surname and pink hue usually give the game away immediately.
    When we were looking for a school for our children, we went to visit one we had been recommended as good. It’s a religious school, like many of them here, and although I would prefer a secular education for my children, I was ready to send them to the best school I could find.
    We spoke to the school principal, who at first chatted to me about where I was from, talked about the school, its philosophy and services. She gave us a glowing description of the place, and her sales pitch pre-empted many of the questions I wanted to raise, and telling us how welcome our children would be, especially as they spoke fluent English. The place seemed fine, until later in the interview she mentioned that they didn’t have children from immigrant families. “We don’t have that problem here,” she said.

  23. Paulino says

    There are Syrian refugees coming to Brazil, they have been coming for a while now, ever since the civil war started. Brazil already had a sizable population of Arab immigrants, they are all productive members of our society, and we have adopted many typical Arab dishes into our every day lives. And I imagine this is why many chose to come to Brazil.

    The Brazilian Catholic Church have been very active in helping them (and other immigrants, such as Haitians) settle, learn Portuguese and find jobs and schools for the children. Since Brazilian have a taste for Arab dishes, many have been setting up vending stands, usually next to churches as their first source of income, and some even have already started their own restaurants. I try to visit the vending stands at least once a week, the food is usually excellent. The Syrian I’ve met so far seem fairly secular, women often don’t even wear headscarves, only a couple of older women were wearing very light hijabs. I wasn’t able talk to them much, their English is very limited, as is their Portuguese but they all seemed nice people and very grateful too, I’m sure if they decide to settle permanently, they will fit right in, enriching the Brazilian melting pot. (Haitian immigrants face a much harder integration because of racism, Arabs are considered “white” here, proving that “race” is a social construct).

    Now, here’s my problem, I’m a “radical militant atheist”, I criticize religion, all religion whenever the opportunity arises. Recently I had a very long and hot discussion over Islam, because I blamed it , not all Muslim, for the death penalty of a Saudi poet over apostasy. I was accused of condemning and offending all Muslim, and that I should restrict criticism to the Saudi Regime, and other fundamentalist States or groups, otherwise I was being racist and intolerant. I tried to present Sarah Haider’s argument, that the western left (which I feel I am part of) is too lenient on Islam, but my argument was still labeled as islamophobic. What am I to do?

    p.s.- English is a second language, so please excuse me for any grammar and spelling mistakes.

  24. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @10:
    [read it there, I won’t quote myself]
    I finally realized that the word I’m looking for as a generic form of “racism”, has been used all the time: bigotry.
    This relates to the common idea that ‘all jihadists are Muslim, therefore Muslim bad people’.
    Tempting to call that attitude “racist”, which then will get the rebuttal, “Muslim is a religion not a race”.
    uhhh, what I’m trying to write is: generalizing that everyone of a particular type is bad because all the bad people one’s encountered are of that type; is better known as bigotry, rather than racism.
    EG, just because all the recent marathons have been won by Ethiopians does not mean all Ethiopians will win all marathons.
    Also, just because all the muggers you’ve encountered are POC, does not mean all POCs are muggers.
    And of course: just because all jihadists are Muslim, not all Muslims are jihadists.

    in nerdspeak: correlation =/= causation. (eg. jihadism and islam are correlated yet islam does not cause jihadism)

  25. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 31:

    This relates to the common idea that ‘all jihadists are Muslim, therefore Muslim bad people all Muslims are jihadists’.