5 Steps Forward Towards Addressing Islamophobia and Xenophobia

When my book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, was released in early November, I did not expect that the themes it addresses -- the devastating impact of the national security policies, the daily phenomenon of anti-Muslim sentiment, and the growth of xenophobic narratives on communities in post 9/11 America -- would come into such sharp focus as they have over the past month and a half.

In the wake of the heinous attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, we have witnessed the drumbeat of dangerous political rhetoric and a spate of attacks targeting Muslim, Arab and South Asian community members on streets and campuses, and at stores and places of worship. As we digest news about horrific hate crimes on a daily basis, as we begin to understand the impact of today's climate on young Muslim, Arab, and South Asians, and as we read about the divisive rhetoric from those seeking political office, it is natural to feel discouraged.

At #WeTooSingAmerica community conversations from New York to Washington, DC to Chicago to Atlanta to Seattle, people have shared that they are experiencing a range of emotions these days, from frustration to hopelessness to outrage to sadness. That is exactly why what we do now matters: to come together, to speak up, to show up, and to do so in ways that center the experiences of Muslim communities in the United States.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of people ready and willing to do so, to explicitly say that "we are better than this." I've seen this firsthand at #WeTooSingAmerica community conversations, where people of all racial and faith backgrounds have been making pledges to talk about, take action on the issues and narratives facing Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities in post 9/11 America, and to influence others to do the same.

Culled from the responses from people around the country, and from the examples of positive actions already happening, below are five ways to take action now to demonstrate that it is vital -- and possible -- to point our country in an alternative direction: one based on a shared vision of respect, justice, equity, and solidarity.

1. Statements Matter "I will ask my organization, my elected official, my place of worship to make statements of support and solidarity"

At this moment, strong statements that directly center and address xenophobia and Islamophobia are important in setting a different tone for our country. Here are some solid examples that you can use to make an ask of your local newspaper to write an editorial, your campus administrators for an official message from the President, your own organization or network, or your local elected official or City Council.

From City Agencies and City Councils: examples include the Nashville Metro Human Relations Commission and Seattle City Council's resolution

From Campus Administration/Student Voices

Best practice tip: Ask university officials to consider sending a message to the entire campus community about the impact of today's climate on Muslim, Arab and South Asian students, and to reiterate the campus' anti-discrimination policies and commitment to inclusion. Ask student groups to stand in solidarity with Muslim Student Associations on campuses and centralize Islamophobia and xenophobia as key aspects of conferences, meetings, and programs in 2016. Examples include Cal Poly Pomona's statement and Eastern Coachella Valley Youth Speak Out Against Islamophobia after a nearby mosque reported being firebombed

From Allies and Organizations: examples include statements from National Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander organizations against bigotry and this statement from Asian and Pacific Islander organizations in Washington State

From Editorial Boards: here is an example from the Detroit Free Press Editorial Board's We Stand Together. We are better than Bigotry.

2. Prevention Matters: "As a parent, I am going to ask my school counselor and principal how they are planning to address bullying and bias against Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian students."

We can attempt to stem the tide of hate violence and bias incidents in schools, communities and workplaces with three R's in mind: ensuring that communities being targeted are aware of their rights; that government agencies and public stakeholders publicly articulate and vigorously enforce their responsibilities under anti-discrimination laws; and that resources are made available to assist communities in need.


Ask your local civil and human rights commission to release in-language factsheets about the legal protections that exist on the basis of national origin and faith.
Ask your City Council to hold a hearing on the impact of today's climate on Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities that reflects the voices and experiences of local community members and leaders.
If you are a parent, ask your school principal and counselors about their plans to ensure that policies and resources are in place to address bullying. Free resources from the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments here

3. Conversations Matter: "I will have a conversation about race and Islamophobia with my colleagues at work"; "I will challenge my relatives who make anti-Muslim statements."

The messiest and most difficult conversations are often the ones we have with the people in our closest circles of colleagues, family members and friends to raise awareness and shift viewpoints. Here are some resources to help shape those conversations that include questions and remarks such as "Aren't all terrorists Muslims?" or "The Syrian refugees could be dangerous."


On American Muslim communities here, here and here
On Sikh American communities here and here
On South Asian aand Arab American communities
On Syrian refugees including an explanation of the vetting process from the Arab American Institute
Check out We Too Sing America's appendix for conversation starters on race, anti-Muslim sentiment, and xenophobia based on the stories and issues featured in the book

4. Supporting Organizations and Grassroots Efforts Matters:

Crisis response has been a daily phenomenon for groups working with Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh communities, including local community-based organizations and places of worship in your area. This is an ideal time, as we close out the year, to make a donation to support their work. While there are many amazing organizations to support (many are linked in the sections on this post or here), I'm highlighting two local ones that are particularly invested in organizing and base building.

5. Showing Up Matters:

Coming together with Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities for a press conference, a civic action, a march on campus or a solidarity event at a mosque sends a powerful message at this moment. Check out the links above for examples of events.

Prepare for or follow up on solidarity events with an awareness and strategy session with the membership of your own organizations and representatives of Muslim, Arab and South Asian groups. Best Practice Tip: At all times, it is important to connect with and take the lead from groups working directly with MASA communities to reflect their voices and expertise on messaging.

[Want to add to this list and provide additional examples and best practices? Email deepa@deepaiyer.com or post up on the We Too Sing America facebook page].