1700% PROJECT: MISTAKEN FOR MUSLIM
The 1700% Project is a collaborative effort working against the rise in racial profiling and anti-Muslim violence post-9/11. As their site says, “the project challenges monolithic stereotypes of a "Muslim” identity while acknowledging the significance of historical persecution.“ The project is based off of Anida Yoeu Ali’s poem "1700%” (1700% is the increase in number of hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and those mistaken for Arab or Muslim).
This video (a collaboration between Anida Yoeu Ali and Masahiro Sugano) is an incredibly powerful spoken word piece. The poem itself is a Cento, 100 found lines taken from official hate crime reports against “Arabs” and “Muslims” filed after 9/11. In the video
a poet, dancer, angel, prisoner converge with community to speak, deflect, and intervene against racial profiling and hate crimes. This convergence exemplifies a spirit of defiance and resistance from communities of people who refuse to end in violence.
What does this have to do with Asian Americans?
It has everything, past and present, to do with Asian Americans. Race-based hate crimes are nothing new to the Asian American community, from documented attacks on Chinese during the Gold Rush to Vincent Chin who, mistaken for Japanese, was beaten to death by two former autoworkers in Detroit in 1982. This video even begins by citing Japanese American internment, in which 120,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. Many factors lead to internment, such as the labeling of people of Japanese descent as the enemy, untrustworthy, sneaky, foreigners, and un-American. Hate crimes against Japanese Americans increased, and many Chinese Americans began wearing “I Am Chinese” buttons in hopes of avoiding discrimination and attacks. The government framed internment as a way for Japanese Americans to prove their loyalty to America. They claimed it was a military necessity and that loyal Americans should not question relinquishing their rights in return for security.
In a Post-9/11 World
Right after the attacks on 9/11, the government made a number of ethnic and religious-based arrests and interrogations, similar to actions taken towards the Japanese American community after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Department of Justice implemented a Special Registration program for men from 25 countries, 24 of which are Muslim or Arab. “Muslim” and “Arab” have become terms closely intertwined with “Terrorism” in the American psyche. It has become common to understand the government’s measures against Arab and Muslim Americans as the trade-off for National Security. Sikh Americans, who are not Muslim, have been warned of the mandatory turban-search now required by the TSA. Because of such perceptions, hate crimes and bias incidents against Arabs and Muslims, as well as people perceived to be Arab or Muslim such as South Asian Americans, have skyrocketed. The 1700% project brings to light many of these attacks, which are becoming almost commonplace and yet still are shocking in their underlying displays of ignorance, terrible misperceptions of innocent people, and unbridled hatred.
Looking like the Enemy
There are many more instances in history where ethnic groups have been targeted for looking like “the enemy” than what have been mentioned here. Regardless, it is always problematic when “the enemy” is assigned specific physical characteristics – from slanted eyes and black hair to turbans and dark skin. Throughout history it has led to scapegoating, witch hunts, and many wrongful attacks. It is important instead, as the poem and video suggest, to not respond with violence but with awareness, a deeper understanding, and solidarity with victimized peoples. We must not separate ourselves, such as the “I Am Chinese” buttons in WWII, from those who are being accused of actions or sentiments that they are innocent from. We must explore our own subconscious perceptions of others and our notions of good/bad, safe/threat, and other binaries, and understand how these images are affected by outside factors such as the media, government policy, and the people around us.