A Reflection on “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamaphobia in Visual Culture”

By amarti68

“Certain stories are privileged and others are marginalized.”[1]
The archive is a powerhouse of memory and identity through materials and framing. If marginalized voices are not heard, then the world cannot remember them. Whether materials are created and/or valued is due to the social structure surrounding it. “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamophobia in Visual Culture” was held on October 20th 2016 at NYU. It reflected on how acknowledgement of difference in treatment is the first step in reflecting on these issues within the United States. If marginalized groups can be acknowledged, and made important today, it will reflect in the archive of the future. The first step in understanding which direction the archive will remember this moment, is to look at how it is acknowledged now.

One example of a marginalized group in the United States is that of Arab and Islamic Americans. The “Conversation” was led by Salah D. Hassan, and Marina Budhos. Salah D. Hassan, is a professor at the University of Michigan where he does academic work on the representation of Anti-Arab and Islamophobic feelings in the United States. Marina Budhos is an award winning author who writes fiction and non-fiction work through her own lens, as an Arab immigrant herself who grew up in New York City. They both represent different lenses while looking at the same material. Hassan pointed out the political facts and statistics surrounding the Anti-Arab and Islamaphobic feelings within the United States, and the racial feelings of the average American about Arabs and Islamic Americans. He mentioned the agreement of 2014 that 60% of Americans believe that Arab peoples cannot perform their jobs if they held political office and other misconceptions that are results of visual representation. Budhos really looked at these issues from inside, she reads into this perspective, giving a voice to the victims of the visual culture reflected in the talk. Her perspective enhanced the “Conversation” by using her literary voice to depict the situations of discrimination Arabs and Islamic American communities face.

Television and mainstream visual representation was the focus of this discussion. Hassan had drawn the conclusion that the reason for such negative representation of Arabs and Islamic peoples is consistently based in specific political motives. Organized anti-Muslim feelings are tools for a political purpose, just as hate speech always has been. His research has found that historical events have little to do with the anti-Muslim feelings present in today’s America. He also found that the threat of anti-Muslim groups is higher to the general public than Muslim groups targeted for their expression. These are facts that are not accurately represented in American mainstream visual representation. In terms of the Archive, television is a medium that can be preserved easily. Framing is the issue. Through just representation in American television of Islamic peoples and Arabs, there is a different narrative than what actually occurred. Unless the Archive is sensitive to the marginalized voices, it will not accurately capture this moment in time. The Archive must frame it’s materials in a way that showcases this misconception and then the materials available, rather than feeding into this false representation.

As the discussion went on the topic of identity and the idea of “coming out” as Muslim became an idea that described the process of coming to terms with an ostracized identity. They are only their label without any humanizing traits assigned to them by the mainstream visual culture. For example, Arab and Islamic people are seen on TV as entering and building mosques on the news in order to create a sense of fear in people, without any knowledge of what mosques mean as social centers. The fact that Arab and Islamic people are regularly a topic of discussion but are not seen as people is something that does not only reflect political agendas, but also what stereotypes are active in American society. Watched, Marina Budhos’ book, investigates how identity changes in an inner city Iranian boy as he is intimidated by the police and integrates in American life. Her book reflects on how he is labeled, how he attempts to combat that, as well as how he reclaims his identity. Budhos read excerpts from her book that exemplified the boy’s relationship with his community and those outside it. The book reflected a narrative of someone that is connected to his community but is turned against it by an altered view of his reality. Stories like this one are why the archive is important. A well rounded archive can take a narrative like Budhos to frame a collection of visual media resources that contain Anti-Arab or Islamaphobic feelings, making it a positive representation of this historical moment.

The archive has enough power that it does not need to choose a side of the mainstream or the marginalized. The archive can remember everything that society deems important. Acknowledging these issues today is key in making them important for tomorrow. The power of the archive acts as a memory bank. But a hidden power of the archive, is its ability to choose the frame to which the nation remembers something. “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamaphobic Visual Culture” created a dialogue about identity and memory which led to larger questions about how these themes effect the archive, and how the archive will use its power to represent or ignore the marginalized.

[1] Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 1-19.


Adrianna Martinez

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