Photo Credit: TLC
I’ll say it: Lowe's decision to cave into bigotry and pull its ads from TLC’s All-American Muslim just might be a good thing. The company made its decision after the Florida Family Association, an evangelical Christian Group, accused TLC of portraying Muslims too positively. Until the story made headlines, many of us hadn’t even heard of the show. But that has clearly changed and more people are likely to start watching, even if only briefly.
I hadn’t seen All-American Muslim so I watched a bunch of online clips (many cued up with Home Depot ads) to see what the controversy was all about. I watched a Muslim woman talk about the looks she gets when traveling while wearing a head scarf, or hijab. She shared what it’s like to live with her parents at 32 because she isn’t married yet. Another clip showed a young couple welcome its baby boy with an Islamic call to prayer. And another followed a frazzled Mom chase her 4 kids around a book store as they talked about prepping for a new school year. Riveting reality TV it’s not. But it is an honest portrayal of five Muslim American families living in the Arab-American community of Dearborn, Michigan who happen to have a plenty in common with other bi-cultural families in the United States.
There’s more upside to this story. Hip-hop mogul and activist Russell Simmons has been outspoken about the need for Lowe’s to right its wrong. Simmons even put his money where his mouth is and tried to buy remaining ad space on the show. Actors Kal Penn and Mia Farrow have also been vocal critics of the retail giant’s decision. Asking his Twitter followers to boycott the store and show support for its advertisers, Penn tweeted: “Our next movie: Harold & Kumar Do Not Go To @Lowes. Please take a sec to sign & support an all-American show."
And on Tuesday, the controversy made its way to the Capitol, when Congressman Chris Murphy (D-CT) shared his message to the company: "You're better than this. You know that the history of this country and of this world never, ever looks kindly on this kind of marginalization that you've endorsed with your actions."
Lowe’s did apologize on its Facebook page: "It appears that we managed to step into a hotly contested debate with strong views from virtually every angle and perspective -- social, political and otherwise -- and we've managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry. We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we're proud of that longstanding commitment." The apology sparked 28,000+ comments. Many supported the company and its right to make business decisions as it sees fit. Calling a large volume of those comments “pointed and hateful,” Lowe’s decided to take them down and start a new Facebook conversation today, asking its fans to be more respectful.
It won’t be the first or last anti-Muslim sentiments to be bandied about. Herman Cain made headlines last summer after he said he wouldn’t hire Muslims in his Administration. Facing some backlash, he amended his comments to say he would hire Muslims, but only if they took a loyalty oath. How’s that for open-minded? Of course it wasn’t those comments that forced him out of the race; it was allegations of sexual harassment along with a long-term extramarital affair.
Then there was the unsuccessful campaign to boycott the U.S. Postal Service’s Eid stamp, which commemorates the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (marking the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca). The stamp says Eid Mubarak in Arabic, which translates to blessed holiday. It was released on Sept, 1, 2001 -- right before the Sept. 11 attacks. After it was re-issued a year later, a flurry of emails equating the religion with terrorism urged people to tell the post office they don’t want Muslim stamps on their letters. My mom, a Muslim American who has been active in politics and the Arab American community since I was a kid, was on the receiving end of one of these hateful emails and luckily, wasn’t quiet about it.
Clearly we have a long way to go to change perceptions about Muslim and Arab Americans in this country. My husband and I are Muslim and though not strict about our religion, we’re proud of it and our Arab American roots and hope our kids will be, too. Thanks to Lowe’s, I’m betting a lot of people will cue up the DVR to watch All-American Muslim tonight on TLC. And having more people see a positive portrayal of a deeply misunderstood religion and culture is definitely a step in the right direction.
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