By Khadija Kothia, BA History
“You don’t sound American”
“That’s because I’ve read”.
Recently, following an appearance on WGN Chicago, an American youngster by the name of Hoda Katebi hit the headlines. In what initially was meant to be an interview regarding her fashion vlog Joojoo Azad (which by the way is awesome!), the discussion quickly took a dark, yet unsurprising turn. Iranian by descent, Katebi was prompted:
“Let’s talk about nuclear weapons”
Social media was quick to react, as posts criticised the approach and the hosts were made to apologise. She did, on reflection, apparently ‘sound like an American’. Sighs of relief. All was settled.
However, as identity politics again hits the headlines amidst growing talks of Mexican walls and travel bans, time is up on being made to settle. Politics of apathy is no longer enough to suppress a polarising society. We must speak up, and in response to this, Hoda Katebi must be thoroughly applauded.
Too often we fall into victimhood. ‘How dare two white, American presenters capitalise on the achievements of a young woman as a political opportunity!’
‘How dare a largely innocent, law-abiding group be made to condemn the acts of its deviant few!’ ‘How dare Katebi be told, “you don’t sound like an American”!’
And yes, how dare they. How dare they! But how daring are we?
We live in a society where simple narratives are our punch lines, 280 characters limit our platforms, where pictures are forced to speak a thousand words. But like all teasers, trailers, and that small apricot-topped slice of the larger fruit-rimmed cake, there is a greater story to tell. A truth.
And this is why Hoda Katebi, an Iranian-American, a hijabi, a fashion vlogger, a regular girl from town must be celebrated. Amidst the intimidation of anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racial and the long list of unfortunate minority-faced bigotry, her answer was simple,
“That’s because I’ve read”.
It is that simple. History provides the key truths, of torturous slave ships sailing across the Atlantic, of brave individuals standing up to repression, of the context to the simple narrative. It has the power to differentiate us between the complicit, and the powerful, the victim and the liberated. In a divisive narrative that looks to separate the white from the black, the alien from the ‘native’, the West for the ‘Orient’. History has our answers. History is our silencer. History is our liberator.
But it’s a history that itself needs to be freed. A history that must be unleashed from its ‘victors’ that so slyly twist us into victimhood, into headlines and corporations that profit in perpetuating the narrow stereotypes as the “Other”. The old saying, “history is written by its victors” must remain exactly that, old, and in moving towards a future of increasing globalisation, we must decolonise a past so heavily colonized and distorted. Confucius must be taught alongside Kant, war in the Middle East must be looked at in context with US intervention, just as white and black, Muslim and Jew, refugee and resident live must unavoidably alongside one another. Because in deconstructing the myth of the “victor”, we too, will be able to answer our own questions, our own misconceptions, and in doing so, strengthen our own identities.
Hoda Katebi’s brilliant interview is available to watch and take inspiration from here: http://www.joojooazad.com/2018/02/you-do-not-sound-american-live.html