RedEye’s “Turban Primer” enables racist attitudes to persist

Guest contribution by Muhammad Shareef

I love the RedEye. It usually features a glimpse into what’s going on around Chicago, sometimes expanding on larger national events, but more importantly balancing its informational articles with just enough entertainment pieces to have turned me into a loyal reader each morning for the past three summers.

Yesterday morning was very different. I was shocked by the “Turban Primer” article published barely two days after a gunman shot and killed six worshippers at a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee. I usually refuse to dwell on isolated cases of racism, even those that explicitly target myself, because I recognize that almost all of the people I interact with are amazingly broad-minded human beings. But the “Turban Primer” was too blatant for me to ignore. So I write this with the simple hope of highlighting what I’ve come to notice.

The article shows five cartoon drawings of various men wearing turbans with the following descriptors: Sikh men, Iranian leaders, Taliban members, Indian men, and Muslim religious elders. The descriptors are followed by simplistic captions that are much better suited for Pokémon cards than for a publication of the Chicago Tribune. But looking beyond the ignorance in stereotypically categorizing turban “styles”, an editor at the RedEye saw it fit to educate the Chicago-area community on how to distinguish a Muslim wearing a turban as if to say that a mistake similar to Sunday’s should not happen again.

To be fair, it would make sense to give this article a more equal playing ground. How does the RedEye usually cover mass homicides? Let’s take into consideration the Colorado, “Batman,” shooting and the 49 homicides in Chicago from the beginning of July until Sunday’s temple shooting. RedEye has actually been very informative in bringing these incidents to light, especially for me. The Colorado shooting culprit and victims were given the most attention. But little attention was given to the temple shooting and the attention that was given seemed to imply that the Sikhs were the incorrect victims rather than the fact that they were victims nonetheless. Similarly, coverage of the unusually high homicide count on the South Side of Chicago is limited (although the RedEye’s consistent effort through their Homicide Tracker at least initiates the conversation).

On a much grander scale, I have noticed a similar pattern with larger news media outlets. Although some positives have emerged, like the discussion surrounding violence prevention through stricter gun control policies, it’s frustrating that these discussions last very briefly while more biased and offensive portrayals remain much more persistent.

The comparison from earlier today between the RedEye “Turban Primer” and “How to tell your friends from the Japs” published by TIME Magazine in 1941 reminded me of the problematic “Chink in the Armor” headline used earlier this year by ESPN in reference to Jeremy Lin. The racism against both Sikhs, in limiting the coverage of the temple shooting, and Muslims, in seemingly identifying them as the more appropriate target, in a publication of the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye cannot be justified. It wasn’t justified in 1941. It isn’t today. So how does such inflammatory racism continue to leak past multiple layers of editorship and management?

Today’s article upset and annoyed me for the implicit racism that was represented by its publication. Yet, my love for the RedEye continues and I intend on continuing my morning tradition of reading it. I believe that it is wrong to implicate entire organizations or groups on the basis of the acts of a very limited, irrational few. Such generalizations are exactly what enable racist attitudes to persist. I hope that because of the number of people that highlighted and expressed complaints about today’s issue, RedEye and other news media outlets will be more aware and careful in the future.

Muhammad Shareef

Muhammad Shareef is currently a rising senior at the University of Chicago. His work with high school students in conducting research to improve the delivery of medicine in Chicago’s underserved communities has encouraged him to pursue a career as a community-based medical professional.

There are 4 comments

    1. Justin

      True, but targeting them in order to kill, hurt, or discriminate against them is still discrimination. Racism just means discrimination/oppression/persecution based on racial or ethnic details. Sexism means the same thing but on gender grounds. There is no special word for religious discrimination, but it still exists, if you target Sikhs for violence, or Muslims, you are targeting a specific group. And frankly, does it matter if it was a racist attack or not? The fact is when you get a dozen dead people, I don’t really care why someone killed them, what’s important is they were murdered simply based on economic/racial/gender/etc. other reasons but none of which is a legitimate reason like self defense to do it. Innocents being massacred is innocents being massacred. Just like when the Soviets executed massive numbers of orthodox Christian and Muslim leaders simply for having a religion etc. These targeted killings aren’t any less disgusting. If someone kills a man because he is white, or if he kills him because he is a Christian, does it really make a difference in your eyes?

  1. Alexx

    Amazing constructive criticism by Mohammad Shareef. Keep up the good work. We may not be able to change the world at once, but we can start by correcting publications like this one.

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