BLOG #5: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

“Your prophet was a pedophile!” “Go back to your country!”

Hundreds of people were screaming from the sidewalks that day in the most intense display of hatred I’ve ever experienced in person.

Islamophobia has been around for decades, but if one were to pinpoint a time when they developed and became differentiated from general xenophobia, it would be after the 9/11 attacks.

I personally have a unique history with Islamophobia in America, as I moved away just months after the attacks and returned almost a decade later. Coming back to the States as a hijabi adult was jarring, as I’d never felt the kind of attention my covering brought upon me. The post-9/11 hysteria had calmed by that time, so the extra attention wasn’t as bad as it could be.

I learned that soon enough with Donald Trump running for the Presidential nomination, bringing up topics like Muslim bans and registries. Even as Islamophobia soared with Trump’s support, many claimed it didn’t exist.

Yet in places like the mall, the doctor’s office, Walmart and more, I saw my own hijabi mother being treated like she didn’t have a right to be there. My father was seen as uneducated, unable to speak English, and of course as hating America. My tall, large, bearded brother-in-law, of mixed Arab and White descent, was most often seen as a threat.

It wasn’t until the day I referenced, at a Muslim conference in Garland, that I realized the depth of the hatred. Some protesters attempted to assault a Muslim couple right in front of me.

Most of us in this class consider ourselves open-minded and progressive, and it’s difficult to recognize how we too condone and thereby enable Islamophobia. This can be as simple as letting a terrorist joke pass without comment, or assuming someone Muslim is not American. I’ve heard, “you’re Muslim? I thought you were Hispanic!” too many times to let it go. The Muslim world does not exist. Muslims can be those other than South Asian and Arab people. The list goes on.

My primary suggestion for all of us would be to go seek out the people we don’t interact with and know little about. This applies to many groups, including Muslims. Don’t just put the onus on a small minority to go out of their way to engage with you. Visit a mosque, there’s one a mile from UNT. Go to a Muslim Student Association meeting. They take place on campus.

All the opportunities to learn are at our fingertips. Not taking advantage of them now would be its own form of ignorance.


BLOG #4: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

The male gaze. Overt. Undeniable. Encompassing.

And inescapable.

Sometimes it seems even as a woman, I’m seeing the world through the male gaze.

When Natalie Hage spoke about her experience being body-shamed on a plane this past summer, one part of her story stuck out: the man next to her, despite not being touched or inconvenienced by Natalie once seated, felt entitled to be seated next to a thin person. Or perhaps, more specifically, a thin woman.

Physical standards for men and women differ greatly, but what’s significant is their varying levels of enforcement. Though one could argue that the image of the ‘ideal man’ is just as unrealistic as that of the ‘ideal woman’, men’s bodies are not judged and policed in the same way women’s are. As a result, men, and many women, expect women to fit the ideal but not men. Less than ‘ideal’ bodies are often accepted and even applauded among men, such as the trend of the ‘dad-bod.’

Here’s a challenge: name a positive fashion trend with the word mom in it.

The male gaze is everywhere, in literature, fashion, cinema and day to day life.

All of this eventually leads to events like the one Natalie experienced, when men are offended because women dare to exist outside the ideal and aren’t ashamed of it.

Being fat isn’t the issue in itself. As much fat-shaming as exists, the visceral hatred we see toward fat women only seems to emerge when these women carry themselves with confidence or seem happy. As all the magazines and advertisements we looked at in class showed, being fat can be changed. Surgery, diet pills, exercise, diets, even dressing in certain ways can make people look thinner.

But not wanting to change— that’s a problem.

There’s a beautiful saying I see often these days: pretty is not the rent you pay to exist in the world as a woman.

But it is.

Natalie’s experience just reinforces the notion that women exist for male pleasure. And until we as a society are able to move away from the patriarchal traditions and values of objectifying women, we will continue to pay.

BLOG #3: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

Two episodes into an animated show called Rick and Morty, I had to stop and evaluate a scene that immediately bothered me.

The main characters were on a plane with bombs, and chose to wear ‘Muslim’ disguises and yell Allahu Akbar before detonating. What was the purpose of that? Nothing, plot-wise. Satirically, it had no value. It was simply meant to add a humorous element. Yet in the process, it reinforced harmful negative stereotypes about Muslims and terrorism.

The problem is rooted in the fact that many individuals find this sort of joke funny, because they don’t see the harm in it (some find the harm funny as well but that’s a different topic).

After all, how could mere words, a joke on social media or a funny scene in a cartoon harm actual people?

Goddamn snowflakes. Can’t even take a joke.

In fact, I was in this exact situation just a few months ago. I ran into a friend on Fry, and she told me to save her from her date. The reason? She had refused another drink, and he had felt the need to ask and make sure she “wasn’t ISIS”. This man, who happens to be in our class and maybe hasn’t earned protection of his identity but will receive it here, thought this joke was harmless. Being me, I immediately walked over with my friend and calmly asked him about it. He was shocked that she was even offended.

Gently, I began explaining how our words become bullets, knives and most importantly, justification, in the hands of certain people. I talked about “scared” cops shooting Black people, and stereotypes of the angry Black man. I explained that Muslims are frequently victims of hate crimes, and how the association he had made between a brown woman who he did not even know was Muslim and a terrorist group is the same kind of association that kills Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the U.S.

I guess my long-winded point is this: words have power. Satire based in race or religion can be powerful as well, making caution all the more important. Letting our guard down means letting pass without opposal comments such as this one from veteran comedian Tina Fey:

“Like, I hope they (Neo-nazis) try it (head to New York City) and get the ham salad kicked out of them by a bunch of drag queens. ‘Cause you know what a drag queen still is? A six-foot-four black man.”

BLOG #2: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

My little sister once asked me, Sarah Apu (term of respect meaning sister), how do I make my skin lighter?

Having grown up in a society where a woman’s worth is determined almost solely on beauty based on skin color, a community where everyone from the day laborer to the CEO uses skin bleaching creams, and having only recently escaped this mentality myself, I was heartbroken.

My sister, at 11, had already picked up on the world’s negative perceptions of those with darker skin.

Cameron Russell’s Ted Talk seemed like it was educational to much of the class, but based on the discussion which followed it, the people of color present had plenty of experience with Eurocentric beauty standards and the prejudices which may develop against those who don’t fit into them.

I was especially glad to see that the discussion about beauty standards broached the topic of colorism. Dark/light skin prejudices are one intersection of racism and beauty bias which are often overlooked, but can make a huge difference in the treatment of a person.

Women like Leslie Jones who don’t easily fit into our standards for beauty such as ‘white’ features or light skin face a different level of harassment than those who do.

Here’s an excerpt from the NBC article linked to above:

Part of the problem is that the people in power are far too often not part of a constituency that is routinely being bullied and threatened — people of color, women and members of the LGBT community — and therefore they are more susceptible to flawed arguments that regulating social media could be a slippery slope.”

Although I could not find any studies online distinguishing levels of harassment faced by dark/light skinned women, one study by the Data and Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research showed harassment can discourage women and minorities from speaking up online.

An article about the study pointed out one of the potential  reasons.

“Because white, male technologists don’t feel vulnerable to harassment in the same way that, say, women of color do, they don’t design social media to protect against online abuse,” author Alice Marwick says.

Online harassment is a great topic to discuss intersections of race, gender, sexuality and sexual orientation. But in the context of Jones’ trolling, it becomes apparent from reading just a few comments that one of the primary points of attack is race.

No one’s saying Tracee Ellis Ross doesn’t face harassment online, but it is clear dark-skinned women of color bear the brunt of race-based invective.

Blog #1: Race, Gender and the Media

Sarah Sarder

JOUR 5210

Tim Wise. White Like Me.

Ta-Nehisi Coates. The First White President.

The latter is what I thought of when we watched Wise’s documentary Thursday night. Wise asks young people what it means to be white. Most can’t find an answer. Is that because whiteness exists, and has always existed, in a capacity of oppressing others and stealing from them? This is a hard question to answer, made more so because the mind shies away from making such a broad statement about friends, neighbors, lovers. But Coates presents a strong argument that whiteness, at least American whiteness, is predicated on this negation of other races, and specifically of Blackness.

Coates sheds light on what has become a commonly accepted myth in post-election politics: the white working class, tired of being ignored and ‘oppressed’ by the identity politics of the left, turned to Trump. This belief alone lends support to much of what Coates illustrates. Somehow the blame for a President Trump voted into office by a majority of white people lies, at the end of the day, with non-whites and their demands for equality.

Don’t they know how far we’ve come? Why do they have to be so greedy?

And so the nation, led by political pundits and celebrities who cannot accept that their fellow whites and perhaps they themselves are still as accepting as black plight as their ancestors, accepts that the frustrated white working class have finally had enough of the left’s identity politics.

Coates says otherwise.

“The racial and ethnic isolation of whites at the zip code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.”

What, then, led us to Trump? To read Coates’ essay is to perceive a massive retelling of facts, harkening back to the “mythic past” Wise speaks of.

“If the broad and remarkable white support for Donald Trump can be reduced to the righteous anger of a noble class of smallville firefighters and evangelicals, mocked by Brooklyn hipsters and womanist professors into voting against their interests, then the threat of racism and whiteness, the threat of the heirloom, can be dismissed. Consciences can be eased; no deeper existential reckoning is required.”

In our first class, I voiced my opinion that America had been built on a foundation of white supremacy, and do this day it’s institutions and economy function on white supremacy. Contrary to what scores of celebrities and political figures tell us, racism is not a plague upon our nation; racism is our nation.

There is no way to ‘rid’ the U.S. of racism without fundamentally changing parts of integral systems and processes of justice, education and legislation. The question now is, can we accomplish a restructuring of this level in the United States at present?

Here’s a final quote from Coates to shed some light on where we are as a nation.

“It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.” And in that perverse way, the democratic dreams of Jefferson and Jackson were fulfilled.”

Coates’ article below:

UNT Student Offers Free Hugs to Passersby

The characters surrounding 20-year-old Robert Townsend on any given Wednesday are unique, even for a college campus. This Wednesday, they are especially noticeable: Spiderman and Venom stand atop a bench holding a sign with the words “Free Hugs,” while Townsend, in street clothes, sits next to a curly-haired skeleton, waiting for the next high five, hug or fist bump to come his way.

A psychology major and aspiring divorce counselor, Townsend has been on the giving end of hugs and other positive gestures since fall of 2015, when he began attending UNT as a freshman. Since then, he has created his own alternating group of people who attempt to spread joy every Wednesday at UNT.

The group, known formally as The Hug Squad, aims to spread happiness and counter what many see as hateful rhetoric from a man who preaches various Christian texts weekly at the same location, next to the Business Leadership Building.

“One of the things I feel the preacher tends to do is bring quite a bit of negativity towards various people,” Townsend said. “We have people come over, and they give us a hug and say I’m glad you’re here… I need someone to level my head after that.”

Currently a sophomore, Townsend formed The Hug Squad after a few weeks of standing near the preacher as a freshman with another UNT student, a junior who held a sign that said ‘preach love, not hate’. When the student stopped showing up, Townsend decided to create his own sign offering free hugs in order to spread positivity.

“It became obvious we needed to make our own thing,” Townsend said. “They’re not coming back, so we’ll be here to spread the love and joy and happiness and make people smile.”

While he isn’t currently taking classes at UNT because of financial concerns, Townsend still drives to Denton from his home in Caddo Mills weekly in order to give out hugs.

The one to two hour commute takes up a large chunk of his morning, amongst the many physical chores he also completes on the hay-farm he shares with his mother. Townsend wakes up and takes care of the horses, the dogs and the equipment he’ll need at UNT for the day. Once the car is loaded with whiteboards, expo markers and Mr. Strudel the skeleton, Townsend sets out for Denton solely to represent The Hug Squad.

He has never missed a Wednesday.

“[For me to be absent] has yet to happen,” Townsend said. “I don’t know what happens that day.”

Presumably, one of the other 30-odd members of the hug squad would keep the group going.

“We’re working towards developing a friendly little community in and amongst ourselves, and I think we’ve done pretty good with that,” Townsend said. “We’ve gone from being me, a skeleton, and two other people to an alternating group of about 30.”

Townsend said he aims to expand the group even further, and while he doesn’t currently have plans to make it an official UNT organization, Townsend would eventually like to create an avenue for The Hug Squad to raise money for charity.

For now, Townsend is content with the group’s role.

“We sprouted from a group about preaching love, not hate,” Townsend said. “I realized that with all the negativity and all the hatred that we were seeing in the news, there needed to be some sort of positive influence coming in from somewhere, even if it was ridiculous. I feel like we’re making an impact, we’re making people smile and we’re bringing people together.”

Turning Point USA gives Conservative Students Voice on Campus

Kimberly Murro talks to fellow UNT students at a table covered in libertarian merchandise: a roll of red, white and blue stickers proclaim “Big Government Sucks” in all capital letters, while a poster of John F. Kennedy condemning partisan politics and another declaring America to be “The best country on Earth. Period.” swing in the wind on either side of the table. Pins are spread across its surface, the classic red heart against a white background: I  ❤ Capitalism.

Murro is the founder and president of Turning Point USA, the new conservative organization on campus. She transferred from Texas A&M to UNT in spring of 2015 in order to be closer to her home in McKinney. Since then, she has changed her major from education to political science with the intention to attend law school, and eventually be a politician.

Murro considers herself part of a minority of students on campus, but is still vocal about her beliefs.

“I really strive to not care about what other people think, especially being a conservative on a liberal campus,” Murro said. “The second you let people get under your skin and let you feel afraid is when you submit.”

Turning Point USA is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 with a mission to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government,” according to its website. The grassroots organization also supports small government, capitalism, fossil fuels and gun rights.

“It’s kind of a challenge, I like it honestly,” Murro said. “Especially tabling, people come up and they’re like ‘I disagree with everything you think,’ and I’m like alright, let’s go, let me change your mind.”

In the current election, Murro is supporting the often controversial Donald Trump, but “more as a settle” than wholeheartedly.

“At the end of the day, you have to back the policy over the party because both situations are stuck with two pretty shitty options,” Murro said of the major party nominees.

Despite her lack of passion for the candidates, Murro regularly courts an active interest in legislative issues.

Middle school was when Murro discovered this zeal for all things political.

Listening to the radio with her father one day, Murro heard about a regional convention for the Tea Party. She decided to attend, and was inspired by the people she met.

While her love for politics grew throughout middle and high school, Murro didn’t fully embrace grassroots activism until college.

In spring of 2016, Murro became involved with Turning Point USA at the regional level. She enjoyed the organization, but even then was not aiming to open a chapter at UNT. Instead, she planned on being a part of College Republicans at UNT, but the organization suffered from leadership issues and became inactive.

“I got involved in College Republicans initially and then I kind of got sick of how stagnant it was,” Murro said. “There was absolutely no conservative say on our campus, which is why I started Turning Point.”

For now, Turning Point USA at UNT has 15 members, and Murro admits that getting people to join is no easy task.

Regardless of the difficulty, she plans to persist. According to her best friend Bailey Vert, determination is one of Murro’s strongest qualities.

“Kim [Murro] is successful in her organizations because she is so driven,” Vert said. “Anything she sets her mind to she can accomplish.”

Murro’s determination and faith in her ideals is prominent in the way she acts and talks, in the tone of her voice and the stride of her gait. She is confident, even when those around her disagree with her, and perhaps especially then.                   

“I am pretty independent and outspoken as a person, so I don’t find it hard to share my beliefs,” Murro said. “I’m gonna stand up for what I believe in regardless of whose name is on our ticket and where I am on this campus.”

Turning Point USA’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in the UNT Gateway Center. The meeting will be an open forum with the founder of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk, and will include discussion of free speech, free markets, limited government and millennials.


Sarah Sarder is a senior news writer for the North Texas Daily and an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas.

An aspiring journalist with ambitions to work internationally, Sarah spends her time working on news stories and reading pieces from her favorite publications including the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal.

Her experience with writing spans a variety of forms from putting together literary magazines to news writing and editing in high school, as well as interning for a local newspaper.

Other than reading and talking about the news, she enjoys tea, books, and the outdoors.13063252_10154131373042640_2064449168875126424_o-2