I’m noticing something going on in my country. America is under attack.
This week, at the University of Michigan (my alma mater), Arab and Muslim (American) students protested against the showing of “American Sniper” on their campus. Now, they weren’t simply protesting the movie being screened on campus. They were protesting against it specifically being shown by the Center for Campus Involvement, which describes itself as “a dynamic, student-focused department that serves undergraduate and graduate students campus wide through its programs and student organization support. Through meaningful involvement, the Center creates transformative experiences, a vibrant community, and lifelong memories for University of Michigan students.”
Now, some might remember why these students would possibly be upset. The film, while becoming the highest-grossing movie of 2014, prompted many moviegoers to tweet utterly hateful things about killing Arabs and Muslims right after seeing it. Many in my community were quite shocked and scared by such outbursts. The film dehumanized us in a quite cursory fashion, and it was celebrated for it. “American Sniper” received six Oscar nominations this year.
After these Michigan students voiced their concerns, its showing was canceled. Then, Jim Harbaugh, the new celebrity head football man at the University, and one of the top three or four high-profile college coaches in the nation, tweeted this:
Michigan Football will watch “American Sniper”! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!
Shortly thereafter, the Center for Campus Involvement “reconsidered” and chose to return to the original plan of showing the movie to create a “transformative experience” and “lifelong memory.”
None of this was shocking. It does not surprise me at all that Arab and Muslim (American) students who are concerned about a movie that sensationalizes a white American soldier that spends 134 minutes systemically murdering their people are eventually disregarded. By the way, their worries that the film might foster a hostile environment are not completely unfounded. In February of this year, three Arab Muslim (American) students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina were targeted and executed in their own home by a middle-aged white man (over a parking dispute). A bunch of other middle-aged white men are now getting ready to kick off presidential campaigns touting their plans (of varying degrees) of how they will attack yet another Muslim nation, Iran. These students are simply looking at their surroundings and asking for a little relief.
But what concerns me much more is how these (American) students were attacked by their fellow Americans for making their feelings known. Tropes of “Get out of America, you terrorist sympathizers,” “If you don’t like it, then leave,” and “Go back to your country” dominated online and social media. (Check out the comments here… or here.)
These types of reactions are, of course, nothing new. But they do deserve pointing out for one simple reason. Those who retort in this fashion don’t only hate Arabs and Muslims (even the American kind). They hate something much deeper. They hate that we’re even here. They hate that we are Americans too, speaking up, exercising our American rights. In short, they hate what America has become.
To these people, and to Coach Harbaugh it seems, any criticism of anything American, especially something as “American” as “American Sniper,” and especially when undertaken by Arabs and Muslims (Americans), is an attack on America, their America. They get upset when we complain about the celebration of “American Sniper,” or when black Americans make a big stink about police murders of their people (even when there’s a video), or when Latino Americans decry the dissolution of their families by backwards immigration policies.
But, luckily, their America is not my America. My America is aware of its diversity. My America is the one where the most vibrant (and most expensive) cities are the ones that have the highest rates of non-white people living, working, and innovating. My America is the one where your chemistry, engineering, or math professor is more likely than not to have had parents who didn’t speak English once upon a time. My America is the one where your $40 dinner was more likely than not prepared by someone who was born somewhere way south of here. My America is the one where you are more likely than not to have your life saved in a hospital by someone who looks like Sanjay Gupta. And my America is the one that elected the African (Muslim) guy with a weird name as its president. Twice.
So, I won’t let these people to tell me that I hate my country. Aren’t they the ones who hate the America that is lively and thriving, precisely because so many of us don’t look like them? They are relics of an old time that was exclusive, intolerant, and prejudiced. They were the faces of yesterday’s America. We are the faces of today’s.