Living in the United States as an Arab-American Muslim definitely has its ups and downs, and more often than not, the latter. If I want to go against my usual M.O. and look at the glass half empty, I can find many reasons to feel frustrated, discriminated against, disrespected, and more regularly, misunderstood. The tragedy of September 11 pushed the slow-stepping positive progressions Muslims had made in the United States all the way back to square one. We have had to start over, and unfortunately, we have not had the best success in doing so.
However, putting politics aside and purposefully turning my cheek from the ironically racist comments and anecdotes figures like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have shared with the world, my focus here is on a part of American culture that perhaps may be considered “neutral” in the context of religion and politics. But from my perspective, again as a Muslim and Arab-American, that is not always the case. I am talking about daytime television.
During the time I was working on my doctorate, I had some time off work to complete my dissertation. Suddenly finding myself home during the late morning and early afternoon hours, I discovered the world of daytime television. Shows such as The Martha Stewart Show, Rachael Ray, The View, and The Talk suddenly became the voices I’d hear in the background coming from the other room while I worked in my home office. One day while taking a lunch break, I caught an episode of The Martha Stewart show. It was around the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays, and that day Martha had two segments on cooking traditional foods for Hanukkah. The following segments on the show were on Jewish traditions, such as the significance of the menorah and the eight days of celebration. Interesting show, the food looked delicious, and I actually learned a few things. Then a few days later, she had a show on, of course, Christmas recipes, as well as decorating tips, entertaining tips, etc. Some days later, I caught another daytime show that did a cooking segment on Kwanzaa. Something dawned on me. Holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and later in the new year Easter as well, hold major significance to Americans including Jewish-Americans and African-Americans, and any other race and culture that belongs to that religion. But, what about Muslims and Ramadan? Muslims living in the United States endure a month of fasting, from sunrise to sunset (FYI: no water, no gum, no breath mints, no sex), and the entire month is filled with not only beautiful traditions of prayer, and personal and communal spiritualism, but also absolutely delicious food. From all of these cooking segments I was seeing on TV, not one was done on Ramadan and the month of fasting. Unlike the other holidays getting airtime with Martha and Barbara Walters, Ramadan lasts an entire month—not just one special eve and day, not 8 days, but an entire 30 days.
So my radar as been up, and my DVR got the most exercise ever recording these shows as part of my “research.” Just the other day, I saw 2 different shows on Chinese New Year. In the past 6 months, I have written steadfastly to Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and more recently with the new show The Chew, I have written to Mario Batali, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly. I’ve stalked them on facebook with hopeful comments, little “heads up”…”Hey Mario, just wanted to let you know I sent you an email for a show idea. Please check!” But unfortunately, all to no avail.
My point is this: Muslims are in the United States, and we are not going anywhere. With it, we bring our culture and our traditions. We bring our religion. We bring our customs, our food, and of course, we have a passion to share it. Unfortunately, as daytime television has shown me over the last year, we have no one to share it with.
Isn’t anyone interested to know what one eats after a day of fasting from daybreak to sunset? If so, please speak up and give a shout out to Martha. Or Barbara. Hell, even Miss Rach.