As a First-Generation Iranian Muslim, I'm Not Surprised by the 'Roseanne' Episode 'Go Cubs!' But I'm Still Pretty Pissed About It
A few days ago, when Dustin wrote about how the very special Roseanne episode in which Roseanne Conner meets her new Muslim neighbors was bad TV, I commented the following:
I said that before watching “Go Cubs!” I have now watched “Go Cubs!” And I’m not changing my mind.
After the episode aired, Roseanne Barr (who in a previous episode already dismissed the experiences of black and Asian Americans with a dig about black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat) tweeted:
i like to do TV episodes about REAL ISSUES & REAL PEOPLE. That's what I do. Next season will be even more current events-I will challenge every sacred cow in USA.— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) May 8, 2018
But what’s fun about “Go Cubs!” is that it just continues the same othering of brown people that Barr has engaged in herself on Twitter, and that her beloved president does on the regular. During the episode, the laugh track still loops when Roseanne Conner makes her racist jokes. The episode still ends with the lonely brown woman having to accept the bigoted crap lobbed in her direction. And Roseanne still has the gall to ask “How do you tell who’s dangerous and who isn’t?” Everything about “Go Cubs!” reinforces the same old cycle of shit: racist person does racist thing, sees example that their racist beliefs aren’t 100% valid, changes ever so slightly, and we’re supposed to herald them as champions for budging just the littlest bit. Oh, thank you so much for not calling the drones on us! We’re ever so grateful!
Here are things I’ve had to explain to people my entire life, because as especially white people love to tell me, I’m the first Iranian or Muslim they’ve ever met, and therefore I must answer all their questions at their behest because it would be too difficult for them to do any research on their own. Not everyone who is Muslim is Arab; case in point being most of the citizens of Iran, that country to which Trump is surely marching us ever closer to war now that he violated the Iranian nuclear deal and has put in place a Secretary of State whose rhetoric on Iran is unabashedly unhinged. Iranians don’t speak Arabic, we speak Farsi, which isn’t a dialect of the former (I had to explain this to a coworker last week) but an entirely different language. There isn’t just one country in the Middle East called “Arabia.” That’s not how it works. American Muslims can be first-generation immigrants or they can be the descendants of people who took a chance and made a leap and worked hard as fuck to start again, leaving behind families and friends and careers and whole lives in India and Albania and Pakistan and Nigeria and Morocco and China and Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and Jordan and Qatar and Turkey and Egypt and Algeria and Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Iran and Palestine and Indonesia and Malaysia and yes, Yemen, where Roseanne’s new neighbors are from.
Those are all different places. Some are in the Middle East, some are in Africa, some are in Asia, all with their own vibrant cultures and traditions! And we’re able to merge all that with the American way of life! We’re not one monolithic group with one monolithic religion. There are actually two main sects of Islam: mostly Iranians are Shia; mostly everyone else is Sunni. We don’t all celebrate the same holidays or worship the same way — some of us fast during Ramadan and some don’t; some are more secular in their interpretations of faith — but hey, that’s religion for you. Isn’t that how Christianity and Judaism each work? They have their own different sects of their own larger over-arching idea? Cool, just checking.
You wouldn’t know any of this from “Go Cubs!” because this episode does literally the bare minimum to try and present what life is like for the Al-Harazis: mother Fatima (Canadian-Armenian actress Anne Bedian), father Samir (Iran-born actor Alain Washnevsky) and young son Kazim (kid actor Callan Farris). The only things we truly learn about them are that they like baseball (given their password choice, but they don’t talk about the game) and that Kazim is so afraid of his new community that he has to sleep in a bulletproof vest. Roseanne seems surprised by that development. It’s almost like she doesn’t know that hate crimes against Muslims have now surpassed 2001 levels, or she doesn’t register how the travel ban that she jokes about has divided up families and terrified people who are afraid they’ll be detained. It’s almost like she’s ignorant and the show isn’t interested in meaningfully exploring how she can change!
“She’s dealing with a lot of stuff that you don’t even know about,” Roseanne tells the grocery store clerk the next day when the woman accuses Fatima of stealing from American taxpayers and riding a camel. Although Roseanne doesn’t know what Fatima is really going through, either, she takes offense at the clerk’s comments. But those sick burns aren’t really quite at the level of when I was in elementary school and a classmate called me a “sand n——-,” or when a school administrator told my parents to stop marking “Other” as my race on forms because technically, according to some gigantic book of ethnicities they used to define people, I was white. That pissed off my parents not only because it was a flattening of who I actually was and how my brown skin actually looked, but because when my older brother was born in the early 1980s, numerous people would report my parents when they were in public places, thinking they had kidnapped my brother. He was too light-skinned and his blond hair hadn’t turned black yet. Clearly he couldn’t belong to my parents, who came to the United States years ago and who made their life here as a chemistry professor and a labor and delivery charge nurse and who put an American flag in their yard to let their neighbors know they’re not dangerous. You know, the same thing that “Go Cubs!” makes jokes about when the Al-Harazis do it.
Or how about when I was in middle school, and a classmate went to Mecca, and no teachers knew how to explain why he did that? Or in high school, when Sept. 11 happened, and a girl in my arts program asked if my father’s “plan” worked? Or when we went to buy my birthday cake that week and the employee, hearing my father and me speaking a different language and seeing “Mohammad Ali” on his credit card, asked if we wanted “Death to America” written on the cake? My dad started introducing himself with his middle name after that. (It didn’t help at airports, where he’s been pulled out for separate security checks every time we’ve traveled together. When my partner, who is white, and I have traveled, it’s happened to me, too.) Or when a few months into a job I heard a male coworker tell his new employee that I was “intimidating” and “scary” but couldn’t explain why, or when at a professional event an old white man asked me four times in a row where I was from, with a final, “Where are you from originally?” Or when I heard from my mother a few months ago that she went to volunteer at a local church with one of her friends, and the nice Christian woman running the program asked my mother how long she’s been in the United States, and then walked away when my mom said she was from Iran. I’m sure that’s what Jesus would have done!
People like Roseanne Barr don’t want to know details of Muslim American lives, and the show named after her doesn’t want to, either. That’s why Laurie Metcalf’s Jackie, despite chastising Roseanne for her Islamophobia, her watching of Fox News, and her assumption that her new neighbors are from “Taliban-istan,” offers to help the Al-Harazis “assimilate.” Who cares about what brought them to Lanford? Who cares about what they may have gone through? Who cares about any of that? As long as they act American, they’ll be fine—not like those other Muslims.
“Go Cubs!” wraps up the Al-Harazis’ plot by having Samir wake up Roseanne at 2 a.m. to pay her back for the $30 she lent Fatima at the store, and looking at the actors’ IMDb profiles, it doesn’t look like any of them show up in any future Roseanne episodes this season. And why would they? ABC isn’t genuinely interested in telling stories about this community; we know that because they canceled their deal with Reza Aslan and there’s been no news about the Larry Wilmore/Bassem Youssef show. Instead, with ABC’s blessing, Roseanne accomplished what it wanted: continuing to normalize Islamophobia, continuing to flatten Muslim American experiences, continuing to create an us vs. them dynamic where to be a good Muslim you have to extend olive branches to racists and walk away quietly when those ignorant motherfuckers shit on them.
And for all that? Fuck your shit, Roseanne.
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