Almost everyone I know and work with is convinced that we need to help elect Barack Obama as the next President of the United States. (Although, if you were at JazzBaltica you know there’s a movement afoot to draft Joe Lovano…however…). The election of a rational and intelligent team – willing to think through issues and follow the laws of the land, with an appreciation for culture and diversity – would represent a giant step up for our country and the world. Not to mention the sea change in our perception of ourselves and others once we’re represented by this brilliant and accomplished man.
Which is why I was so shocked yesterday when, right in my hometown, a salesman said to me point blank: “You don’t seriously think America is going to elect a Muslim president, do you?” I kind of laughed, first of all because it has been so widely demonstrated to be false, but second because I thought maybe he was being ironic. I said, “Well, wait a minute, he’s a Christian, remember? That’s what that whole preacher scandal was about.” He turned to me angrily and said, under his breath, “Yeah, but his father was a Muslim.”
Like a slap in the face. Generally these tropes appear, in this part of the country, as second hand news stories about the lies and deceptions that spread on the internet. This reminded me how real the problem is, and how much hard work it is going to take to overcome the insinuations, the slander, the fear, and yes, the racism. And the simple spread of misinformation that abounds in our media. Whether you support Obama or not it’s crucial to speak up when you hear this sort of thing. Different communities hear different things, and it’s this separation and prejudice that we need to peel off like an old, dirty, oil-soaked suit.
You may disagree with me on the issues, and that’s fine with me. But this idea that it is somehow “presumptuous” of a United States senator to tour the world and speak to leaders he may soon be doing business with, that there is something sinister about someone who speaks so well but looks so different, that we’re just, well, scared of the change he would represent, that he’s a radical and so far out of the mainstream that we can’t see his longstanding credentials in the community, that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim in the first place, we have got to put that behind us.
Don’t let it stand. Speak up.