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As Elections Approach, Xenophobia and Racism Continue to Affect Community And Candidates

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(Washington): Racist and xenophobic comments made by elected officials and political candidates have contributed to negative public opinions and policies, according to a report released by DC area-based, non-profit organization, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), on October 27, 2010.

With the midterm elections round the corner, SAALT's report, From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse, documents intolerant remarks made by elected officials and those running for office. According to the report, since September 11, there has been an unprecedented rise in xenophobic statements that have specifically targeted South Asians, Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs.

"Racist rhetoric cannot be characterized as ignorant, funny or inconsequential. It has far-reaching impact - such as contributing to a sense of alienation and isolation on the part of affected communities to shaping negative public opinion and harmful policies," said Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of SAALT.

According to the report, since 9/11, South Asians, Muslims and Sikhs have been perceived as threats to national security; as political liabilities; as outsiders or foreigners; and, as unsuitable for political office. Among many incidents, the report documents and analyzes political ads about outsourcing, statements targeting a South Asian candidate's accent or "funny-sounding" last name, and stances that support profiling and surveillance of certain communities. It also presents a special spotlight on comments related to the Park 51 cultural center ('Ground Zero mosque') and Islamophobia.

Speakers at the briefing (L-R): Arsalan Iftikhar, lawyer, commentator and blogger; Hilary Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau of NAACP; Priya Murthy, Policy Director, SAALT; Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT.

"The details in this report are extremely helpful not only to the South Asian community but to the rest of the country as well", said Hilary Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) one of the speakers at the briefing. Shelton compared the experiences of Muslims, South Asians, Arab Americans and Sikhs to those of African Americans, who have also been dehumanized and marginalized by a racist political climate.

Reflecting on the current climate of Islamophobia, lawyer, commentator and founder of themuslimguy.com, Arsalan Iftikhar, noted that "'Muslim' has become the accepted slur in America... Race, xenophobia, bigotry have now become a permanent political wedge issue in America."

The report also notes that even though a high number of South Asians are running for office this year, including several congressional candidates and one gubernatorial candidate, these individuals have to face additional hurdles when their loyalty, patriotism and "American-ness" have been questioned.

Calling for a return to civility in the public sphere, the report identifies individual and collective strategies that can help enrich the country's political and civic life. "We urge elected officials, candidates and community members to take action. For example, policymakers and political candidates should condemn racist and xenophobic rhetoric, and political parties should adopt no-tolerance policies. In addition, community members should hold accountable those who make such remarks," said Priya Murthy, Policy Director at SAALT, and primary author of the report. The report includes tips to empower community members to respond to such statements on their own, by providing resources and tools to engage in civic and political activities.

Speakers at the briefing (L-R): Hilary Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau of NAACP; Arsalan Iftikhar, lawyer, commentator and blogger; Priya Murthy, Policy Director, SAALT; Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT.

From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse is available at www.saalt.org. SAALT's Policy Director, Priya Murthy was also featured on NPR's "Morning Edition" drawing upon elements of the report.
 
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that elevates the voices and perspectives of South Asian individuals and organizations to build a more just and inclusive society in the United States.SAALT is the coordinating entity of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) , a network of 39 organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of the South Asian community across the country.

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