Professor Adrien Wing of the University of Iowa College of Law urged Rutgers Law students to use their skills to better the lives of people – particularly those who are disenfranchised, bullied and discriminated against.
In her talk “Securitizing Gender in the War on Terror and Crime” in October at Rutgers Law School in Newark, Wing addressed the intersectionality of race, religion and gender in speaking about intolerance towards Muslim women, particularly for those who wear hijabs, or head coverings.
Her talk was sponsored by the new Rutgers Center for Security, Race & Rights and co-sponsors included the Rutgers Center for Gender, Sexuality, Law and Policy and Rutgers Transnational Legal Intitiative.
Wing noted that the Council on American Islamic Relations reported over 2,200 anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2016, which was a 57 percent increase from the year before. “Since the 2016 election, everything is accelerated,” she said.
Some of the incidents involve teachers harassing their own students, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, she said.
Wing, who is an expert on international human rights and the Director of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, said there is a misconception in the United States that most Muslim people are Arabs, when worldwide, Arabs make up only 25 percent of the Muslims in the world. In addition, many don’t realize that 25 percent of the Muslims in the United States are African American.
Muslims are being discriminated against in the United States in ways that mirror how black people have historically been treated, citing a number of incidents around the country. They included a college professor being forced to step down after she wore a hijab in solidarity with her students; a woman getting kicked out of a bank for wearing a hijab; a job applicant being turned down for wearing a hijab, and an incident in California where police removed a woman’s headscarf during a routine traffic stop.
Wing said it is likely that more incidents will occur – especially since a report from the FBI released over the summer of 2017 categorized “Black Identity Extremists” as threats against the United States. That could include Black Lives Matters protestors and black people who are Muslims. Wing drew parallels between today’s events and governmental action against Civil Rights activists and other dissidents in the 1960s.
In addition to bias based on a person’s gender, race, or ethnicity – she said there are multiple identities that affect how a person is treated by their peers. Those identities include nationality, skin tone, immigration status, marital status, age, sexual orientation, disability status and whether a person can speak the native language of where they live.
“You have to look at all of these identities,” she said, adding that some countries, including South Africa, include language in its Constitution that acknowledges and protects its residents based on their intersectional identities.
While she predicted that bias incidents against Muslims are not likely to get better in the United States over the next year, Wing encouraged law students to build coalitions and to remain optimistic about creating change. “Join together and work on a variety of different issues,” she challenged. “Harness that power and use it for the betterment of society and of people who are not as privileged as we are to have the education we have.”
She urged law students to go further than simply marching or protesting, which she said are good first steps, but to also consider saying, “I’m going to take a positive look at what’s going on and use my skill set I’m privileged to have, and use it for the betterment for all the different groups of people.”