Sayed Kashua

At Fox News, It's Always Racist Amateur Hour

For the amateur American racist, a Muslim is someone who has some sort of head covering; it makes no difference whether it’s a hijab or a turban

Illustration: A Fox News anchor reaches out from the television to grab Sayed Kashua.
Amos Bidreman

It’s only on TV. In the meantime, my fears haven’t gone beyond television. I don’t know why, lately, I’ve been yielding to the temptation to watch Fox News in the evening. Maybe it’s because I realized that it’s the news channel that has higher ratings, or maybe it’s because of my impression that it’s the preferred channel of the people of the town I live in, at least to judge by the treadmill screens in the gym I went to twice. In the meantime it’s only on TV – no one is telling us where we’re allowed to live, or in which school we’re allowed to enroll the kids.

On Fox, the channel of the triumphant president, popular broadcasters behave as though they have an inferiority complex. They address their audience as if it were a persecuted minority of conservatives. This week, for example, I saw a prime-time show in which the anchor and his guests spoke about the fascism of the liberal media. With the fervor of someone fighting for his and his viewers’ life, the anchor described how conservative journalists who dare to tell the truth are persecuted, along with every American with conservative views. They talk a lot about the “people” and the “enemy” at Fox. How the U.S. is under constant threat on all fronts, most seriously from the traitors within.

Sometimes I try hard to put myself in the shoes of right-wingers, to understand the logic behind their feelings. But I’ve never succeeded in grasping their motivations without resorting to racist theory, without concluding that their point of departure is necessarily that they are superior people and deserve more than others because of inborn traits. Because this sense of superiority isn’t always actualized in real life, it becomes the ground for a rhetoric of victimization and conspiracy theories.

Popular TV is very violent, and even though it’s the victor, it will always present itself as the victim of the “mainstream” media, as Fox folks like to hammer home. They blur the fact that they themselves are the mainstream, that the government is behind them and the power is in their hands. I assume that right-wing network reporters earn no less than people at MSNBC and CNN, but their top anchormen seem to be meticulously chosen by the masses and dressed by the producers to appear frazzled, in contrast to their colleagues from the “left-wing” networks.

Unlike those at the competing networks, Fox people aren’t beautiful. They can be fat, and they don’t wear designer glasses that project arrogance, like those worn by Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Fox’s female anchors wear dresses that look as if they came from a high-school prom, not pantsuits like Rachel Maddow and others on the competing networks. A woman on a right-wing station is the woman the average American would like to imagine, and a male anchor who earns millions will look like the guy next to you at a bar in some godforsaken place, nursing a $3 beer.

The right-wing anchors prod the people, and the people are restive, as though they were fighting for their, shouting, fuming, feeling the frustration of the downtrodden masses. The left, which is the group that really should be fighting for its life and crying out, due to the threat to the remnants of democracy, is perceived as rich and complacent, preening in nice studios in elegant suits and designer glasses.

In the meantime, the potential for violence exists only on the TV screen. I can switch channels and neutralize the threat to immigrants, minorities and above all Muslims. There are occasional reports about violence against immigrants, and sometimes about incidents on campus or in the city, but I calm myself by noting that we’re still talking about groups of amateur racists. The extremists who are out to attack Muslims could just as easily assault Sikhs, mistakenly taking them for Muslims. Hindi friends told me that someone shouted at them from a passing car, “Muslims go home!”

For the amateur American racist, a Muslim is someone who has some sort of head covering; it makes no difference whether it’s a turban, a keffiyeh or a hijab. A Muslim is someone who grows a Muslim beard, and in the absence of distinctive clothing or facial hair, everyone of brown skin is potentially a Muslim.

I get the average American racist: He’s nourished mainly by the media, and somehow all the “terrorists” in the West have adopted the fashions of Hollywood movies. In fact, I’m no longer sure which came first: the image of the Muslim as shaped by the costume designers and makeup artists in the film industry, or the choice by “Muslims” of a fashion statement as they interpret it from the divine writings.

You sometimes can’t help but feel for the novice American racist. As someone experienced in sophisticated and multilayered Israeli-style racism – racism based on high moral values, you could call it – I even thought recently about giving racist training courses. Classes with learning materials, demos, tests, real-life applications and graduation certificates that will allow the students to go on to more advanced courses.