Silence Isn’t A Solution

In the days leading up to and during Eid Al Adha:

This is not an exhaustive list of the deplorable actions Muslims have experienced recently in my country. Most incidents are too subtle or common to make the news. They are drops in the daily bucket of bigotry dumped on minorities because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, or other characteristics. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Speak Up (2015) includes many instances of everyday bigotry drawn from real-life experiences. Here are just a few (quoted from SPLC’s publication):

  • On the sidewalk, [a gay man] passes a man who tells a female companion, loudly, “There were fags all over the place. I felt like killing them.”
  • A Colorado woman uses a wheelchair. She is boarding a plane with her husband when the flight attendant says, to the husband, “Will she need help being seated?” The husband told the flight attendant to ask his wife.
  • A white woman is in a doctor’s waiting room when she notices a Muslim woman wearing a hijab being ignored by the receptionist at the front counter.
  • [A child] wrapped a towel around her head and said she wanted to be a terrorist for Halloween — “like that man down the street.” [A Sikh].
  • An African American minister is pulled over while driving home from Sunday service, in full view of many of his parishioners. He is forced to complete a field sobriety test. When he asks why he has been pulled over, he is told simply, “You swerved.”

It’s the 21st Century. Why are people still treated differently based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or other characteristics associated with their identity? What can we do about it?

In Another Shift? We’ll Know For Sure in November, I noted research suggesting that higher levels of familiarity with Islam are associated with a reduction in a person’s susceptibility to fear-mongering about Muslims. However, higher levels of familiarity with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities isn’t easy to achieve in a country as segregated as mine is.

That’s where books that feature the authentic experiences of people from diverse backgrounds could help. Literature cannot take the place of real-life interactions, but books that feature people of color and other minorities break down stereotypes and build empathy. While the people who commit the most egregious acts of bigotry probably don’t read much, these books could encourage silent witnesses to finally take a stand.

For example, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is a funny and heartwarming novel that gives readers an opportunity to see the world through a British Muslim woman’s eyes. For those who don’t know what it’s like to be targeted because of their race or religion or other characteristic, it might help to see what Sofia contends with on her commute to work:

Before the doors [of the train] closed I made a run for it, accidentally bumping into a man who was walking towards me. Accidentally. I heard him mumble something… As I stepped into the (non-air-conditioned) crammed carriage, the word finally penetrated my commute-fogged brain. I turned around, mouth open in delayed realisation. Terrorist? Me? What the actual fuck!… No one heard him. Everyone just carried on reading their papers, listening to their iPods as if someone hadn’t just pulled normality from under my feet and smacked my head against some bizarre reality.

Maybe no one heard him or maybe they pretended not to hear, which is especially likely if the bystanders didn’t know what to do when someone utters such hateful speech in public. I’m not entirely sure how I would have responded either, but I’m thinking about it.

For ideas on how to counter daily acts of bigotry, take a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s publication (here’s the abridged version; the full version is linked above). More people need to be prepared to speak up.


*The police have not labeled this act of violence a hate crime, saying that men matching the description of the suspects threatened other women who were not Muslim.

**Thank you to Eclectic Scribe for discussing these issues with me.


  1. Have just downloaded Malik’s book.

    I’ve just come back from a rare and brief visit to my home town of Birmingham (England). The diversity and liveliness of the Small Heath area just to the east of the city made me gasp, yet again. Half the countries in the world must be represented there in the businesses lining the roadsides, though sadly white faces are rare. I’d quite happily live there if circumstances dictated.

    Just on the edge of Small Heath my team Birmingham City have their stadium. I watched them play on Saturday evening. You would be hard pressed to find a non-white face in the 17,000 crowd.

    Nearly 70 years after the first immigrants arrived from the West Indies there has been very little merging of cultures. I’m beginning to think it is wishful thinking. There is however no cause for tension between communities or aggressive or violent behaviour. In Birmingham at least most tend to co-exist peacefully enough but there will always be divisions. It’s how we handle those divisions that show how civilised or otherwise we are.

  2. I just want to cry when I read stories like this — and obviously, I have the privilege as a white lady to ignore them if I want to. Even if Trump loses this election (which I’m not assuming), I do think this election cycle has given a lot of really shitty people license to be really open about their shittiest beliefs. 😦

    1. “I do think this election cycle has given a lot of really shitty people license to be really open about their shittiest beliefs.” I agree with you. I am hoping that those people are only a small group who are so loud right now because they recognize their impotence as demographics change in our country. I hope. It’s scary how tight the race is getting, though.

  3. There are so many thoughts swirling around. I appreciated your post and wonder the same things every day… how is there so much hate in our country? Thank you for addressing this head on.

  4. I am grateful to not experience hate and bigotry personally in my every day life, but see so much of it online. It’s disheartening. It feels like America is regressing and that we have more conflict and segregation more than ever before. I don’t know if this is true, but it certainly feels that way because of the internet.
    The people who are most hateful will probably not read books about other cultures and experiences. They outright reject them most times. That’s why it’s so important for all children to read about experiences outside their own. Children deserve both mirrors and windows so that perhaps one day, they grow up to be well-rounded adults capable of empathy and compassion.

    1. “Children deserve both mirrors and windows so that perhaps one day, they grow up to be well-rounded adults capable of empathy and compassion.” Well said! I couldn’t agree more. Books are incredibly important, especially during the formative years. I hope educators and librarians are introducing children to books that they might not find on their own.

  5. It’s gotten so much worse since Trump’s been paraded everywhere by media. Instead of decrying bigotry and racism, people are keeping their mouths shut. I find this appalling, and it can only lead to more tragedy.

  6. Excellent post! I am a great believer in the power of literature and film to help expand a person’s worldview and create deeper empathy. ❤

    For over a year, I've been struggling with how, as a white non-Muslim USian, I should take a stand against the bigotry that's been proudly parading out of the closet. Of course it's important to speak up in these cases of everyday bigotry, challenging someone who says unacceptable things in ones presence. But I must live a sheltered life because I'm not hearing these things in the circles I travel in.

    I thought about starting a political blog, but found I didn't have the time to devote to it and doubted I would have a significant number of readers. My friends might read it, but I'd be preaching to the choir. LOL!

    I am still struggling with the question. I hate the thought that someday I'll look back on this period in time and remember that I did nothing except rant to family and close friends about how much I hate what's happening.

    Loving this discussion, Steph (Eclectic Scribe)

    1. I find myself preaching to the choir too! I feel lucky to live in a community that accepts me and my family. Still, I do come across examples of everyday bigotry. Sometimes I’m on the receiving end of it, and sometimes I’m not. It happens on the train, in stores, or on the sidewalk. Most of the time, I’m not supposed to hear it. A few days ago, for example, I overheard someone say, “I know I’m not supposed to judge, but I can’t help it. I just don’t understand why a woman would wear one of those things. Doesn’t she have any self-respect?” The woman was referring to another woman wearing a hijab. I turned around and glared at the woman who made the comment, making it clear that I’d overheard her and disagreed, but I didn’t *say* anything to her. I probably should have. I don’t know. On second thought, what I should have done was say, “You know, I have a book you should read. It’s called Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged.” I should carry around copies!

      Thanks for engaging in this conversation!

  7. I clicked “like,” because as usual this was a wonderful post – although I do not at all like the tides of bigotry and hate that keep sweeping the country. I have to agree with you – the people committing these atrocious acts (crimes!) almost certainly do not read much. Literature may not be a substitute for real life, but it DOES open us to other perspectives and world views – which is precisely why I am encouraging my kids to become readers. (And I still need to get my hands on a copy of Sofia Khan. Sounds so good!)

    1. Hi, Jaclyn! It’s amazing to watch the impact of reading on my children. Each book is a new, eye-opening experience for them. With the Harry Potter series, for example, they had to confront scary situations and grapple with the rise of Voldemort, which they recognize as a parallel to historical and contemporary events (with a little help from mom and dad). It’s wonderful and important.

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