The Rachel Maddow Show | December 12, 2011
HARRIS-PERRY: The home improvement chain Lowe's has decided to pull the plug on its advertising during a reality TV show because the show is too controversial. Now, it's not a body reality show where 20 women date the same guy looking for true love in a hot tub or where the idol rich behave badly. No, no. The show that's causing controversy is about a middle class Midwestern family trying to make it in America , which is to say Lowe's home improvement chain pulled its money from something that ought to be the most Middle American thing out there. But it's not, because of the identity of those whose story is being told. Now, you may have heard of it. It's on TLC . It's called " All American Muslim ." In explaining why Lowe's pulled out, in a statement, they read in part, " Lowe 's received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. And in individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic and the program became a lightning rod for many of those views, and as a result we did pull our advertising on this program." What is the topic Lowe's is referring to there, the topic on which people have strong political and societal views? The topic is being Muslim. They're having views on living in Michigan and being Muslim. That is a topic on which people have opinions? Now, the folks at Lowe's have decided they don't want to be in the middle of a hot bed of discussion. And today in America , simply existing as Muslim is enough to create a hot bed of discussion. What's important to recognize, though, is that Lowe's is making this decision because we exist in a social and political world that makes just the experience of being Muslim a status offense. In America , in 2011 , just being Muslim is, itself, controversial. Something people feel they should have opinions about. And any time your identity is something that is worthy of being shunned in public space, now, that's a sign. That means we're not in the land of ideological or partisan disagreement. We're in the land of stereotyping and bigotry. We know that because we have experience with it. We've seen this photo of Elizabeth Eckford trying to walk to school in Little Rock , Arkansas , in 1957 . She was a school kid trying to go to a public school in a town where her parents paid taxes. In Little Rock , Arkansas , in 1957 , that was controversial because of who she was. And we know that that's what's going on when someone's identity is controversial. And that's what's going on right now with what should be an utterly noncontroversial reality show about a Midwestern family. It's actually our broad climate of anti-Islamic rhetoric that creates the controversy. Just listen to what's being said about Muslims in a political context.
HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The statement was, would I be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration. I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims , those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn't be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are try to kill us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We see an increasing number of Muslim youth radicalizing in America and attempting plots here in the U.S. or traveling abroad to join terrorist groups . REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: An ongoing effort to recruit and radicalize dozens of Muslim-American jihadists who pose a direct threat to the United States . NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE : We have an invented Palestinian people .
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Who would be profiled? RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes. If you look, I mean, obviously, Muslims would be someone you'd look at. Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: The message we're getting is that it's OK to profile Muslims . Why? Because Muslims are our enemy, just Muslims in general.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was on a flight to D.C. I had a woman sitting behind me say, see that veiled woman? I'm very uncomfortable. So, I turn around, I told her, you get your off the plane because I have a meeting to get to, to educate people like you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They make me feel like no matter what you do , you'll always be a third class.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of people don't know nothing about Islam . And they think all Muslim are the same. I hope people change attitude and accept a person for what he is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no concerns about traveling around the anniversary of 9/11. I don't ever fly with fear. It's annoying to walk through an airport and know people are looking at you. You know, open up and say, can I ask you, why are you wearing that thing on your head?
HARRIS-PERRY: In the 1950s and '60s, kids had to wear gauntlets to school because going to school was controversial because of what they were. And today, a home improvement store chain won't advertise on a TV show about Middle American family because of who that family is. Joining us to talk about it is Valerie Kaur , the filmmaker behind the documentary, " Divided We Fall ." Valerie is also director of Groundswell , an initiative devoted to build a multi-faith movement. Valerie , I'm so thrilled to have you at the table tonight.
VALERIE KAUR, WRITER AND FILMMAKER: So am I. Thank you, Melissa .
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want you to back up a little bit. This feels to me like something that has been true for about a decade now. So, talk to me a little bit about your work around the immediate post-9/11 moment and this sort of anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim rhetoric.
KAUR: We've lived in the shadow of 9/11 for a decade. It was in that moment that the world was divided into us and them . That as a 20-year-old college kid, I found myself, my family and thousands of other Muslims , South Asians , Arab, Latino Americans , suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of that line. We became automatically suspect, potentially terrorists, perpetually foreign. And what I noticed is that in the last 10 years, there have been resurgences of anti-Muslim rhetoric violence over and over and over again. What's different about this moment is in a time of economic instability and in an election season, there are those who have realized they can use anti- Muslim bias as a tool of oppression, to gain political points, to gain a profit. That is what's most troubling about where we are today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, part of what I've been interested in your work, so you're Sikh. And the work that you originally did post-9/11 was in part about anti-Sikh violence that was about sort of misrecognizing and people assuming men that with turbans, for example, were Muslim when in fact many of them were Sikh. So, I heard you talking about divisions. Is there some possibility of building coalitions around this kind of anti-Islamic discourse?
KAUR: Yes, what I notice about what's promising about today, is that there's a groundswell of people out there, not just Muslim Americans, not just Sikh Americans , not just people of color , but a groundswell of Americans who are tired of a politics of fear. That we are hungry to see ourselves in one another in ways we haven't before. In the last few years, I crisscrossed the country with my film. I've been to 200 American cities . And when people see a story of a Sikh family, remarkable things happened. You know, I remember an African-American man in Chicago standing up and pointing to his braids and saying, my braids are my turban. I remember a gay man here in New York City who stood up and said, just as I have to fight for the right of gays to come out of the closet . I have to fight for the right for Sikhs to wear turbans. What I discovered is that stories can save us . Stories can bring us hope and stories can make us human to each other. And "All American Muslim " is, you know, the quintessential American form of story-telling, a reality TV show , right? And they've done something and daring, as to show Muslim families as real people .
KAUR: You know, this is the moment where we ought to stand up for this kind of story telling to sort of transform the social imagination that has held up Muslim Americans as Muslim terrorists for so long.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I have to say, it never occurred to me that I would be supporting a reality TV show , but I got to say, I am there. Valerie , thank you so much for joining us tonight.
KAUR: Thank you, Melissa .
HARRIS-PERRY: Valerie Kaur , filmmaker, writer, and director of the multi-faith initiative Groundswell , which I'm affiliated with and think is an extraordinary, extraordinary opportunity for a new generation to do political work. Now, right after this on "THE_LAST_WORD," Lawrence O'Donnell is going to talk to Newt Gingrich 's former spokesman who is now asking for his old job back. Funny what resurgent poll numbers can do. Don't miss that. And straight ahead, here, the best new thing. And despite having a stuffy nose, I'm going to be forced to say Stoltenberg . If you wonder if THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff is as nerdy as they seem, the answer is yes. Yes, they are.