Making Enemies

Post–9-11 Crackdowns Spurring Prejudice

Reports of workplace bias have stayed consistently high. Complaints to the U.S. Equal Opportun-ity Employment Commission of discrimination against Muslim workers have doubled. Reports to the ADC of employment discrimination against Arab Americans quadrupled in 2002.

The statistics and research, although grim, also point to factors that might quell growing prejudice. "One lesson you can take from 9-11 is that we seem to be hardwired to be suspicious of the other," said Harris, the Michigan demographer. "What's important is that this 'other' isn't fixed over time." In the past, for example, groups now classified as white—such as the Irish and Italians—were considered nonwhite and their immigration was restricted for decades.

Though New York has more hate crimes and discrimination than many other states, the spike in hate crimes here after 9-11 was below the national average. Increases in work-place discrimination have also been slightly lower.

Operation enduring hate: Anti-Arab graffiti on a wall at the WTC site last week
photo: Andy Kropa
Operation enduring hate: Anti-Arab graffiti on a wall at the WTC site last week

"Because there are large percentages of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians, there is greater interaction," said Dalia Hashad of the American Civil Liberties Union. "And of course where there is greater interaction, there is more discrimination, but you also have greater understanding."

Harris found some evidence of how familiarity with people of other races can change one's perspective. In a study of 1,667 college freshmen, he found that whites with nonwhite roommates were less rigid in their racial classifications and more likely to classify photographs of multiracial individuals as mixed-race, rather than trying to fit them within categories such as white and Latino. It's a reach to say that having less rigid classifications indicates less prejudice, Harris acknowledged, but the evidence did indicate that living with someone of another race can change how people perceive race.

"You need people to interact with each other to realize that the 'other' isn't that different," Harris said, citing the Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. "Most people know white guys, so after that bombing, no one said all white guys are terrorists."

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