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Opinion | White privilege blinds us to the systematic discrimination minorities still face

MIlam's Musings

Online Editor

Published: Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 13:12


Courtesy of Gap's Facebook page

Gap’s new Make Love campagin posters, featuring actor Waris Ahluwalia and model and filmmaker Quentin Jones, have been defaced and vandalized in New York City.

Gap’s new holiday advertising campaign features a Sikh actor wearing a turban and sporting a beard, as part of his faith, alongside a woman, which was later defaced with racist remarks.

The advertisement released across the United States is part of Gap’s “Make Love” campaign.

Valarie Kaur, filmmaker, civil rights advocate and interfaith organizer, writing for CNN, remarked on the uniqueness of the ad in presenting for the first time in a mainstream, national advertisement, a turbaned man, Waris Ahluwalia, as beautiful and sexy, next to model and filmmaker Quentin Jones.

“He is not a suspect, but a model; not a terrorist, but a person with dignity; not a foreigner, but an American,” she said.

On a subway wall in New York City, vandals crossed out “Make Love” to read “Make Bombs.” Underneath that was written, “Please stop driving TAXIS.”

Gap heard about the defaced advertisement because New York photographer Robert Gerhardt took a picture of it and sent it to Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor at the “Islamic Monthly,” who then tweeted it out, according to Yahoo News.

Afterwards, Gap replaced the defaced ad, changed their Twitter and Facebook background images to the ad in question and released a statement.

“Gap is a brand that celebrates inclusion and diversity,” read the statement.

This advertising campaign is a poignant way to celebrate how wonderfully diverse Americans actually are and to further dispel disparaging stereotypes.

However, the issue of stereotyping turbaned men as terrorists goes beyond a defaced Gap ad. In other words, writing this incident off as the work of vandals and leaving it at that would be shortsighted.

After 9/11, for instance, the New York Police Department (NYPD) began “blanket surveillance” of mosques. Uncovered files showed that the police had designated entire mosques as “terrorism enterprises.”

The NYPD sent in “mosque crawlers” to monitor sermons before any evidence of criminality had even been found.

Moreover, there have long been calls for racial profiling of Muslims, Sikhs or really anyone that supposedly fits the image of a “terrorist” since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took over security screening at airports.

“TSA does not conduct ethnic or religious profiling, and employs multiple checks and balances to ensure profiling does not happen,” according to the TSA website.

Yet, Sikh entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley created the app FlyRights to better file complaints directly to the TSA. Since its inception, 200 complaints have been filed, which is a discrepancy from what the TSA reports to Congress.

The app has been updated now to include filing the complaints directly to members of Congress and comparing airports, according to the LA Times.

Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Coalition that helped create the app, told the LA Times of how often he is profiled when going through airports. He is always asked to go through a secondary screening where they pat down his turban and check his hands for traces of chemicals.

“There is no positive association of a person in a turban, of someone like me who’s a regular American,” he said.

After his picture went viral, Iftikhar said Gap is helping minorities and underrepresented fashion models to challenge how we superficially define beauty.

“Because, as the year 2014 inches closer to us, I want to live in an America where a fashion model can be a handsome, bearded brown dude in a turban,” he said.

I believe it is hard for those of us – white people, males specifically – to understand what it is like to face secondary screenings and the humiliation therein from the TSA or to have our article of faith mocked when we are the privileged political, social, cultural and religious position in society.

Imagine, for instance, if Christian children were bullied for wearing a cross. Or since most mass shootings are by the hands of white men, if we started profiling them accordingly.

Recently, I took a trip to New York City. As a white male, I did not have to worry as much about being a target of the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program because 85 percent of those stopped are either black or Latino.

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