‘How to tell your friends from the Japs’ in TIME, 1941 vs. ‘Turban Primer’ in RedEye, 2012

Two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, TIME Magazine ran an article titled “How to tell your friends from the Japs”, an arbitrary and insensitive guide on how to differentiate the Japanese from the Chinese. Today, just over a day after the shooting in Milwaukee that left six dead in a Sikh house of worship, Chicago’s RedEye printed a “Turban Primer”, a similarly insensitive guide on arbitrary religio-cultural distinctions between, essentially, Brown people from South East Asia and the Middle East.

Then and now. I can’t help but gag on the stench of Orientalism and faithful discrimination that has, apparently, found a welcoming home in our daily reads over the years.


(See the issue it was published in and the photo that caught my attention.)

Special thanks to Muhammad Shareef and Roqayah Chamseddine for the finds.

There are 17 comments

  1. Naomi

    Ugh, that’s awful. I feel like it’s good for them to explain the difference between various religions, since the general public (and popular media) seems to have a lot of misconceptions about all of them, but comparing them in a way such as this seems to imply that, with this knowledge, the “correct” people could have been targeted “instead.” Even if the shooting was a case of mistaken identity (i.e. the shooter intended on targeting Muslims), it wouldn’t have made his actions any less horrifying. Somebody who dons a turban but is not Sikh shouldn’t have to worry about being targeted now that people “know the difference.” Plus, the descriptions below the pictures show how arbitrary they are. Bad move, RedEye.

  2. Old 454

    Indeed, the entire implication is terrible. There is a distinct undercurrent that the Sikhs are doubly victims because they weren’t Muslims. Whereas, if Muslims had been slaughtered, it would have been deemed more appropriate.

  3. elisa

    The Chinese vs Japanese one is clearly racist, as it relies on arbitrary things such as gait, etc. But the turban thing doesnt… most people in the US are mystified by turbans, and I think this is an intersting guide to the many different types of people who wear turbans and why. It shows that not all people who wear turbans are the same, which would be more racist in my view. The article passes no judgment for or against Sikhs, Taliban, etc.

    1. Sami Kishawi

      I think much of the problem lies in its overt reductionist portrayal of the turban, it’s sweeping generalizations regarding who wears it and why, as well as the very poor timing of its publication, considering the RedEye would’ve been better off objectively profiling the Sikh religious minority in America, for example.

  4. luke sherry

    false equivalence. the turban guide does not contain the kind of racist spew that the japs v chinese article does. it is a perfectly legitimate educational image. Now if it said something like “indian men wear fancy turbans because they are naturally ostentatious’ or ‘unlike muslims, sikhs are kind and good-natured, and can be recognized by their pointed turbans’ then this would be more compelling.

  5. Old 454

    The piece’s racism stems exactly from it’s insidious (unstated) implications–particularly given the unstated, but well understood emotional connections to ‘Taliban’ and ‘Iranian’ leader. Not to mention the very narrow slice of the world’s turban-like headdress presented: Indian subcontinent and Muslims–not a broad description of world cultures. Whereas the implication in the WWII piece is “in your discrimination/persecution, be sure to distinguish between Chinese and Japanese,” here the implication is “be careful before taking discriminatory, racist, or worse measures, you may be picking the wrong target.” The piece is not a comparative of cultures to promote better understanding.

  6. aang

    complete false equivalency. I understand the point you are attempting to articulate, however the turban diagram isn’t racist, covert or overt. While the WWII piece is clearly a malicious attempt to recognize a ‘good’ and perhaps ‘docile yellow man’, the Chinese and expose it against the nefarious ‘other’ of the Japanese, the turban piece, and especially its accompanying text attempts to represent the varying traditions of the turban and display the honor for many of the individuals that wear it (the glowing description under the description of the hindu man for example). If anything it provides a greater representation of the diversities of the peoples that wear one. Especially, in the context of the past few weeks, milwaukee and joplin, the ease by which we are extrapolating ridic accusations and muddying an actual attempt at explanation and understanding is unfortunate. There are far greater insecurities and fears that we should be combating together rather than resorting to this.

      1. Sami Kishawi

        Yes, it’s most likely syndicated. The Seattle Times has run a slightly different version of it before.

        Reductionism, whether glowingly positive or not, is a misrepresentation of the facts, and the Orientalist approach of the piece is something that has offended many, and not for no reason.

  7. Melanie

    Does journalists even think?! This entire thing is awfully insensitive. It would seem that the media feels that it is ok to kill Muslims. It is as if they are trying to educate mass murderers and terrorists so that they stop killing the “wrong type”. Puh-lease!!!!
    No one should be killing anybody. Period.

  8. Ali Malik

    “Taliban members” and “Iranian leaders” hijacked the style of turban from everyday Muslims that wear them – so there is no false equivalence whatosever – this image is provocative, misleading and can lead to misidentification and violence. The idea that someone in America walking around with a “Taliban” style turban is a supporter or even sympathetic to that death cult is an insult to most Muslims, particularly American Muslims.

  9. aym noon

    The claims you are making are not only far-fetched, but also irrelevant. Seven lives were lost, because another dangerous man gained access to a gun legally in the United States. That’s the real issue that Americans need to discuss– not some free publication’s silly illustration. The “Taliban primer” is insensitive and somewhat inaccurate, but it is not comparable to the “Jap” article. Nowhere in the RedEye is there an attempt to distinguish Sikhs as the “good Turban-wearers.” Racial slurs weren’t used, and even Khomeini was described as nothing more than a “supreme leader. The writer could have used language to insinuate that he, unlike Sikhs, is violent and dangerous, but that didn’t happen. RedEye’s intention was most likely to educate readers on “who’s who” in the Turban-wearing world. Was this the right time to do so? No. But that’s really all that can be said about this otherwise insignificant illustration.

  10. Mikcy

    The bottom line is: people with killing instincts may well make a rich nation but it would be far drawn away from civilization. A nation promoting guns in households is simply barbaric! One of the foremost qualities of civilization is trust among fellow human beings. Possessing a gun for personal use means under (un)suitable circumstances you won’t even trust your mother! You would be right though, if your nation has a sizeable fraction of powder-sniffing and pleasure-pursuing-till-death mothers.

  11. mkc

    i guess for the sake of ignorant general public the diagram was useful and somewhat eye opening, but as a Sikh I though it was pretty patronizing because of how it was broken down.

  12. Julie

    I agree the timing of the article was very poorly done, and it is offensive in its generalizations, and presentation. If they want to spread education and eliminate ignorance, a better option would have been to publish a series of articles that goes into detail on religion and lives of people. Instead it ends up reading similar to a children’s encyclopedia on animals and their different camouflage. =/

  13. Stuart

    The “Taliban” turban actually is not exclusive to the Taliban, and can be worn by any man in Afghanistan, Taliban or not, friend or foe. Thank you for misinformation, TIME.

    Also, I read elsewhere that the bit of fabric that hangs down was used as a sort of napkin. Not sure if that is correct or not.

  14. Mohammed Yusuf Ibn Ali

    The primer on turbans is quite useful. It covers the basics of as to who wears what general turbans. Yes, the Sikh, Afghan, and nomad turbans are pretty distinct forms from the more generic turban. While it would take an entire lengthy report to really explain all the quirks and intricacies of turbans, the quick guide does what it needs to.

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