Social media used to correct Western perceptions of Arabs. But at what cost?
Children growing up in the U.S. have a plethora of super heroes to draw inspiration and moral fiber from; Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Captain America, Wonder woman and the invincible Hulk teach us to be to honest, loyal, and always do the right thing. But what else do these icons have in common? They are all white (or green), and seemingly Anglo-Christian. From as young as two, children learn that the “good guys” are WASPS. And so the stereotyping beings…
Skewed ideologies and distorted worldviews, if injected since our youth, have the capacity to plague us like a disease as adults. Too many American adults today do not know the different between an Arab and a Muslim. Why? Because growing up, the only the reflection of either they were exposed to was on the news from thousands of miles away.
TEDGlobal fellow Suleiman Bakhit is aiming to change this, using the country’s most powerful pop culture tool, social media. “Happy Oasis” is a Facebook video game starring an Arab as the protagonist.
The animated character, dressed in Saudi garb, stands with his hands open and a broad smile on his face. Standing in desert, Bakhit’s character is surrounded by Arabian clay pots, rolled up Persian carpets, and fresh fruit.
Yet, in assessing Bakhit’s efforts to end the stereotypical extremist image that Americans have of Arabs, it is also of note to consider how he plans to replace it.
Of the many Arabs I know and respect, none are dressed like Bakhit’s character. In fact, none of my Arab friends own carpet or fruit stands either.
Replacing one inaccurate and exaggerated stereotype with another, while done in good consciousness, is not progressive. While Bakhit makes a valiant effort to eliminate the angry Arab image from the media, he is substituting it for an Aladdin-like Disney icon— something that still feels foreign, not a realistic Arab-American.
With 750 million users around the globe, Facebook is the world’s largest social network, and arguably the most effective way to infiltrate media imagery. Advertising on Facebook is both an incredible opportunity and responsibility.
Arabs and Arab-Americans cannot be kept in a foreign cyberspace any more than they can be kept in a foreign news space. They are part of our community, and require equal recognition.
Bakhit has the right idea, I now urge him to send the right message.
With % of Americans holding a Facebook account, and Facebook accounting for the majority of entertainment based social media, what is portrayed counts.