Chicago Sun-Times: Dunkin' Donuts gives in to racist fears

Feature 239Right-wing pundits would sooner choke Rachael Ray with a keffiyeh scarf than leave her alone to drown herself in all that extra virgin olive oil she likes to splash on her so-called 30-minute TV meals.

Ray, the affable, pleasantly ordinary-looking TV chef and eponymous magazine maven, was blasted recently when she showed up in a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee ad wearing what looked like a keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress. Dunkin Donuts yanked the ad Saturday after the likes of blogger/ commentator Michelle Malkin wrote that the keffiyeh “has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities and left-wing icons.”

Too bad Dunkin’ Donuts had to give in to the racists out there who deem anything emanating from Arab culture as evil — even a scarf. These are the same people who insist Barack Obama is Muslim (yep, they’re still doing it), as if being Muslim, which he clearly is not, is such a horrible thing.

Yes, America is still coming to terms with the horror of 9/11, carried out by Islamic terrorists. But the continued demonizing of everyday people of Arab descent and those who practice Islam in response to that terror is xenophobic.

“It seems like anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigoted expression is the last frontier of accepted bigotry,” said¬†Ahmed Rehab, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There is still racism against African Americans, Latinos and other ethnicities, but the average person would think twice about making their racist feelings public. Not so with Muslims and Arabs. We need to move beyond that.”

The reality is that Ray’s scarf featured a paisley pattern, which differs from the diamond pattern of typical keffiyehs. The keffiyeh stands for many things and Palestinian solidarity can be one of them. It also cools the heads of people who live in the desert — go figure. Finally, it’s a fashion trend. The French, who have strong Arab cultural links, have been wearing them for years. And when I traveled to Barcelona a few years back, colorful scarves were de rigueur. Keffiyeh lovers include Kanye West, Meghan McCain, Lupe Fiasco and Lauren Bush. But its sartorial value in hipster circles is debatable since the trend is so, like, over before it’s gotten started among us regular folks.

I can’t blame Dunkin’ Donuts for quashing this controversy by pulling the ad. People can and do have legitimate reactions to cultural symbols, such as the appropriate use of a cross. On jewschool .com, a blog targeting young Jews, retailer Urban Outfitters was criticized for selling keffiyehs.

“In fashion, you have to understand the codes,” says Jada Russell, a Chicago-based fashion consultant. “If there’s a group of people who say that offends me culturally, it has to be taken seriously. Americans are looked upon as a group of people who don’t really respect cultures outside our own. We have to respond to voices around the word.”

The motivation around Ray’s “keffiyeh kerfuffle,” as it’s being called in the blogosphere, stirs suspicion. After all, Rachael Ray is one of us, which is why she has such a wide appeal. Her haircut is plain, her stomach bulges over her belt, she eats too much while cooking . . . you get the drift. To jump to the conclusion that she knowingly or unknowingly supports extremism with her fashion choice is reductive thinking. When her stylist handed her the scarf, she likely accepted it because, like many of us, she probably liked the idea of making her humdrum outfit look a little hipper.

Ray’s only crime here is being behind the fashion times.

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