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August 2, 2016

What Khizr Khan Teaches Us About America

Everyone Should Take to Heart Mr. and Mrs. Khan’s Underlying Message About the Evils of Prejudice

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

Khazir Khan - DNC

Like millions of Americans, I was enthralled by the presentation of Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention. It was not only a highlight of the convention, but also a moment particular to the changing America of the 21st century.

Yet at the same time, Khan’s story is classically American: an immigrant wanting to bring his family to this country, “not,” in his words, “because of religion, but because of its values.”

Generations of immigrants of different faiths and backgrounds have been attracted to this country exactly because of these values—the freedom to choose one’s life, to think as one likes, to observe one’s religion as one chooses, or not to follow any religion. Immigration has indisputably been an engine of American economic success and inseparable from American ingenuity.

Indeed, what is classic in Mr. Khan’s story is how quickly this immigrant family integrated into American life. Khizr Khan attained an advanced law degree and became an attorney. Their middle child, Humayun, joined the army out of high school and, later, while preparing to enter the University of Virginia Law School, he was called up to serve in Iraq.

Humayun’s story, his service, and his heroic and tragic death on behalf of his country in Iraq in June 2004, resonates so powerfully because every American can identify with it—because we are a nation of immigrants.

Captain Khan

It wasn’t the fact that the Khan family is Muslim that is the core of this tale, though the Khans clearly are proud of their Islamic faith. It is the fact that they are Americans who believe in America and who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country they loved.

For us at ADL, this event had particular significance.

First, it spoke to our long understanding of the value of immigration to this country. Back in the 1950s, ADL worked with the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, to publish his work A Nation of Immigrants. The values presented by Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the convention were the very values embodied in JFK’s classic book—that we are all immigrants in one way or another, all contributing to making America what it is. It is this feature of our society that makes us exceptional—what makes us American.

Second, back in 2010, we sought to convey the kind of message so powerfully delivered by Khizr Khan when we honored a different Muslim American who had given his life for his country. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan was a New Jersey born American Muslim who volunteered to fight in Iraq. Laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Kareem was killed by an improvised explosive device in 2007 and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. His mother Elsheba accepted the honor on her son’s behalf at our annual “In Concert Against Hate” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

We recall this only to point out what should be self-evident—that Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan is another of many stories that need to be told about American Muslims’ sacrifice and contribution to our country.

It has been heartening to see the response to his remarks from many politicians as they have stood up on behalf of the Khans. They and many others realize that scapegoating of Muslim Americans not only threatens the fabric of our society, but weakens us in our battle with Islamic extremism by playing into the tropes of ISIS recruiters that seek to portray the U.S. as an enemy of Islam.

While the fight against stereotypes is a collective responsibility, it has been a significant part of ADL’s mission since our founding. My hope is that in the wake of this episode, in this effort we have won many new allies who recognize that in order to be for ourselves, we must stand by one another.

History shows that one of the strongest generators of prejudice and stereotyping is fear: fear of the unknown, fear of the other. In the case of Muslim Americans, that fear is often conjured by invoking anxiety about terrorism. Indeed, Khizr Khan’s remarkable presentation reminds us that, when it comes to the overwhelming majority of American Muslims, that fear is not only misplaced; it is unfair, dangerous, and un-American.

Surely, the threat posed by Islamic extremism is real. Self-proclaimed Islamic extremists have employed terror and shaken communities around the world. We have recently seen unspeakable violence perpetrated in Brussels, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Paris, Nice, San Bernardino and Orlando.

But, as the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in the face of a much grander threat, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He explained that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” What we need at this hour is to draw on that great American reserve –hope– that has sustained us through so many difficult moments in our past and is the surest guide to our future.

Humayun Khan was an American hero, but his story is not an exception to a rule. His family’s story is far more representative of Muslim American aspirations than the phantasmagorical stereotypes so often used to portray Muslims.

More than anything else, we can only hope that the attention appropriately accorded to Khan’s remarkable speech and the heroism of his son will deliver a powerful blow to those in this country who would seek to blame an entire people, religion or ethnicity for the terrible deeds of the few extremists.

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February 26, 2014

Stereotyped Theme Parties Are Way More than a Joke on College Campuses


It happened again. College students dressed up like members of a “culture” for a stereotyped theme party.

In the most recent example, sorority students at Columbia University were photographed wearing sombreros, thick mustaches, ponchos and holding maracas. They also portrayed other nationalities. What’s worse is that these types of parties are not anomalies, but common occurrences on college campuses.

African-themed parties; “thug,” “hood” or “ratchet”-themed parties; and Asian-rager parties all tend to follow a similar formula. They are fueled by the perception that stereotypes mocking racial or cultural groups are fun and funny.

On the surface, some may say, “What’s the harm? They are just college students having fun.” But is this really humor? The answer is: not when the “humor” dehumanizes and marginalizes real people, and not when it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

These parties reflect a persistent negative attitude about people of color that is centuries old. It’s more than a joke; it’s an expression of prejudice against groups of people.  And these instances have a long-lasting effect by creating an environment that tells students of color they are not welcome or respected at that college.

According to FBI statistics, 48 percent of hate crimes perpetrated in the United States were motivated by race, so there is much work to do. The U.S. Department of Justice also reports the third most common location nationwide for a hate crime to occur is on a school or college campus and 60% of known hate crime offenders are under the age of 24.

Colleges have an opportunity to challenge over-simplified, stereotypical representations of people by considering the following steps:

  • Speak out and condemn every instance when racist or other discriminatory language and images are used
  • Educate social Greek organizations and other student leadership groups that they have an opportunity to uplift the school’s reputation and values on diversity
  • Educate about stereotypes, and challenge their use in casual and formal settings. Work with students to unpack their biased beliefs and understand the potential impact of those beliefs
  • Invite students to take responsibility for creating a bias-free school campus

For handouts and information on “Challenging Your Biases” and “Creating a Bias- Free Learning Environment,” please visit our Web site for anti-bias resources.



Las fiestas con temáticas de estereotipos son mucho más que una broma en los campus universitarios

Ocurrió otra vez. Los estudiantes universitarios se vistieron como miembros de una “cultura” para una fiesta temática de estereotipos.

En el ejemplo más reciente, los estudiantes de una hermandad de Columbia University fueron fotografiados luciendo sombreros, gruesos bigotes, ponchos y sosteniendo maracas. También representaron otras nacionalidades. Lo peor es que este tipo de fiestas no son algo raro, sino eventos comunes en los campus universitarios.

Las fiestas con temática africana; fiestas  con temáticas de “matones,” “rufianes” o “golfos”; y las parrandas con temática asiática tienden a seguir una fórmula similar. Son alimentadas por la percepción de que los estereotipos que se burlan de los grupos raciales o culturales son divertidos y graciosos.

A simple vista, algunos podrían decir, “¿Qué tiene de malo? Son tan sólo estudiantes universitarios divirtiéndose”. Pero, ¿es eso realmente humor? La respuesta es: no cuando el “humor” deshumaniza y marginaliza a personas reales, y no cuando perpetúa estereotipos perjudiciales.

Estas fiestas reflejan una persistente actitud negativa sobre las personas de color, una actitud de hace siglos. Es más que una broma; es una expresión de prejuicio contra grupos de personas.  Y estos casos tienen un efecto duradero al crear un ambiente que dice a los estudiantes de color que no son bienvenidos ni respetado en esa universidad.

Según estadísticas del FBI, el 48 % de los crímenes de odio perpetrados en Estados Unidos fueron motivados por problemas raciales, así que hay mucho trabajo por hacer. El Departamento de Justicia de Estados Unidos también informa que el tercer lugar más común a nivel nacional para que se dé un crimen de odio es una escuela o campus universitario, y el 60% de los criminales de odio conocidos son menores de 24 años.

Las universidades tienen una oportunidad de desafiar las representaciones excesivamente simplificadas y estereotipadas de las personas, teniendo en cuenta los siguientes pasos:

  • Oponerse y condenar cada ocasión en que se utilice lenguaje o imágenes racistas y discriminatorias
  • Educar a las organizaciones sociales griegas y otros grupos de liderazgo estudiantil para que tengan la oportunidad de elevar la reputación de la escuela y sus valores sobre la diversidad
  • Educar sobre los estereotipos y desafiar su uso en ambientes formales y casuales. Trabajar con los estudiantes para desarraigar sus creencias prejuiciadas y entender el posible impacto de dichas creencias
  • Invitar a los estudiantes a responsabilizarse de la creación de una escuela libre de prejuicios

Para folletos e información sobre “Desafiar sus prejuicios” y “Crear un ambiente de aprendizaje libre de prejuicios”, por favor visite nuestro sitio Web para obtener recursos contra el prejuicio.





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January 11, 2013

The Trouble With Make Me a “Stereotype”

Applications for smartphones and tablets have become an emerging segment of the online and entertainment industry.  As with videos, blogs and social networking platforms which came before, Apps are now being created that some consider funny, but which  actually cross the line from humorous to offensive.  Recent examples include two free apps on Google called “Make Me Asian” and “Make Me Indian,” that allow users to edit photos in ways which play on racist stereotypes. Users of the app can darken skin color, change eye shape to an “Asian” slant or add ethnic accessories like an American Indian headdress.

Young children often make fun of Asian American classmates by pulling their eyes to make a slant or play “Indian,” complete with headdress or a “war-cry.” As adults, this is the very kind of thinking we try to challenge in our children.  We want them to understand and respect different cultures, not belittle or ridicule them or make assumptions about all members of a group based on common stereotypes.  We teach them that everyone has different physical features, qualities and characteristics that have nothing to do with the groups to which they belong.

Stereotypes make oversimplified generalizations about people or groups without regard for individual differences. The problem is that these generalizations soon become beliefs about groups which form  the building blocks for prejudice and discrimination, features of life that have serious implications for us all.  Apps like “Make Me Asian” and “Make Me Indian” and a score of others built on this concept play on pernicious stereotypes that marginalize individuals and groups. Though the global community is racially and ethnically diverse, these kinds of apps promote the kind of thinking that being white is the norm and everything else is defined as “other.”

As a society, we spend much of our time interacting through our mobile devices, but when we choose so-called entertainment that reinforces these kinds of stereotypes, we have to consider whether we might be contributing to the perpetuation of the incivility that limits everyone’s opportunities.

The Anti-Defamation League strives to remain vigilant of emerging issues in our digital world and communicates regularly with many of the major companies on issues that are raised by the community.

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