On Sunday morning, NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday spent 14 minutes having a panel discussion with their “Code Switch” race-and-identity team, and they aired phone calls they recorded from listeners on “racially charged interactions that you’ve experienced.”
One complained of being assaulted with Islamophobic questions by “white Republican women” at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. Amal Ahmed is an intern at the leftist Texas Monthly. NPR made no attempt to find these “white Republican women” or confirm that this confirmation happened. The accusation was greeted as hard, cold fact. Asking about Islam is "racially charged."
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, anchor: Our next question is about an uncomfortable situation a caller found herself in at work.
AMAL AHMED: Hi. My name is Amal Ahmed, and I'm from Dallas, Texas. And I'm currently interning at a magazine in Austin. A few weeks ago, I was reporting from the special legislative session at the Texas State Capitol, and I was interviewing a group of white Republican women about what they were doing there that day. One of them turned around and asked me, what do you think of Sharia law? I was really taken aback by that question. I didn't know how to answer it in the moment. But I tried to brush her off. And she kept asking me more questions. And it ended with her saying, "You Muslims are all the same. You never want to give a straight answer."
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI: Whoa.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So yeah.
GENE DEMBY: Yeesh.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her questions to you are, how do you stay professional when someone makes it so personal? And then she says, she had no one to turn to for support because all her bosses are white. So where can she find that support system?
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI [who self-identifies as "Persia-Rican" on Twitter]: Well, okay. So I'm thinking, as a journalist, practical advice for when you're in the field. If someone says to you “What are your thoughts on Sharia law?” I think you've got to be ready to say, “I'm a journalist. I'm not a religious scholar. So I don't have any thoughts on Sharia law. Thank you very much.” Turn around and walk away.
There it is, the usual boldness when members of the public insist a journalist has a biased viewpoint (if that's what happened here). Announce you don't have any thoughts and end the discussion. How does that convince anyone you're an honest journalist? She continued:
MERAJI: But as far as, you know, everybody at work being white and not feeling like you have a support system, you can reach out. There are people-of-color journalism groups on Facebook. There are ways that you can find people who have gone through these very similar situations out in the field when they're working. And you can talk to them.
In this telling, an NPR listener might think Ahmed was “profiled” by her name as a Muslim, but her LinkedIn page included that she’s a member of the Muslim Cultural Students Association at Northwestern, which recently hosted an event dedicated to “fighting Islamophobia in the Trump era.” The group's Twitter page touts they've hosted Hasan Minhaj ["Republicans are death eaters"] and former CNN host Reza Aslan [Trump is “a lying conniving scumbag narcissistic sociopath piece of s–t fake president"]. Yes, this doesn't mean Ahmed supports all this, but maybe there’s more to the story of this exchange of views? Some discussion of religion and politics?
In this account, it sounds like Ahmed asked an extremely vague question about “what are you doing today?” and was answered by a bunch of questions about Sharia law. Was the jump really that abrupt? Or was the journalist asking hostile questions about Republican policies? Again, NPR’s anchor had no interest in those specifics. “Hate speech” of some sort was assumed, and so there was only the question of how to report that to white superiors:
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is obviously not something that only journalists face. I mean, I can imagine this is a situation that anyone in a professional capacity would face. My question, actually, is a little bit more pointed. Should she then go to her white bosses and say, this was a situation that made me feel uncomfortable? Or will that make her a target? And, potentially...
MERAJI: At work?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Those bosses saying, oh, this is a problem. Having this person in this position is a problem. I mean, do you have to keep it to yourself, or should you report it to your bosses?
DEMBY: I mean, I think you...
MERAJI: I think you should report it.
DEMBY: Yeah. I agree.
MERAJI: What do you think, Gene?
DEMBY: No, I think you have to talk to your bosses, I mean, like, if only so there's a record of it.
DEMBY: And maybe you don't - maybe she's not the person who benefits from the fact that the record exists. But, you know, maybe your boss has a different approach to covering these women the next time you have to - someone has to engage them, right? Maybe that's something to keep in mind the next time. Even if, like, the sort of emotional support is not exactly what you get, there's a bunch of other more practical reasons to just make that known, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say, of course, that your white bosses might be completely sympathetic and supportive.
DEMBY: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's not that they wouldn't necessarily understand.
DEMBY: That's absolutely right.
MERAJI: I would also write this stuff down every time it happens just to keep a record for yourself, as well, because, you know, sometimes, you're out there, and someone says something to you, and you think, am I crazy? Like, am I crazy? Is this...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did this really just happen to me?
MERAJI: Yes. And you can go back to your record and go, no, this has happened 15 other times in spaces just like this. And I don't know. I just think it's important to write down these things.
Ahmed clearly has a multi-racial support group at National Public Radio. One wonders if the white bosses at the Texas Monthly would be any more curious about what the white Republican women would have said really happened in this “racially charged interaction” than NPR was.
PS: NPR's Code Switch on "I Am Not Your Muslim."