During a recent morning drive, I heard pundits on the radio debating the legalities and travel implications of the US Airways-American merger. The two airlines are to become one oversized legacy airline teetering on the brink of an antitrust violation, or the “New American” as Jon Hamm announces it in American’s new ad, now playing on a TV or monitor screen near you. I have not been following this story regularly, but as a consumer of mass media, another Hamm announced American ad in the same series came to mind: “Time Flies.”
What baffles me is the audacity of this claim – “Our new planes don’t fly any faster, but it sure feels that way.” Hamm went on to describe all the in-flight entertainment and wi-fi options included to make flights seem like they are flying faster.
Is that really something to brag about – despite all modern advancements we haven’t improved our product in any meaningful way for you, but hey look – Wi-Fi – bring your iPad, with any luck it’ll make you forget what a lousy deal you’re getting? Let’s not even get into the flaws of our industry model – the resulting constant delays, new fees and fare hikes, our overworked pilots and attendants who are compensated inadequately, our threats of bankruptcy with every merger – look you can now Tweet a selfie from your phone as we take-off – no charge… for now.
It is not just the airline industry, though, if you look around there are plenty of companies and community organizations that sell a legacy based on the glory of their past not necessarily a new improvement in the product or innovation in the service their consumers count on, and as consumers we have gotten used to being disappointed by their stagnancy and lack of initiative.
One test I use for community advocacy organizations, in particular, is their attitude towards women. I do not just mean the ratios of women to men in the organization or whether women are hired for significant positions or present on the board, but the general attitude of the men in that organization towards the women they work with and the women they represent, if there is a distinctive pattern in the type(s) of women whose voice the organization chooses to amplify or advocate for over others, the women the organization ignores or punishes, and so on.
Unfortunately, over the years, I have grown disheartened at the number of prominent civil-rights organizations in our community that ignore women’s rights, unless an incident involves something like the right to observe hijab/niqab. The number of organizations with men in key organizational positions who talk down to their female staff and colleagues. The men who are revered in our community for their “activism” who use their platform to inappropriately flirt, act like “players” (sounds weird, but it actually happens) and even sexually assault women they come across through their roles.
Too often, we make our women feel like because we are a marginalized community the only stories acceptable to be shared are ones that exemplify our exceptionalism or victimization from external forces, but not those that acknowledge our community is just as susceptible as other communities to internal societal ills – sexism, racism, elitism, rape, abuse, etc. We teach our women to stay quiet when they are hurt. We guilt them with misused Islam, telling them not to reveal their “sins” nor the sins of others and to pray instead for relief. And when some women reach their breaking point and express their anger we accuse them of ulterior motives and betrayal.
So I was simultaneously horrified and excited when I read that the female staff of the national American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) office resigned in protest of ADC’s recent dismissal of Raed Jarrar, its national communications director, after he was critical of how the ADC handled allegations of sexual harassment against Michigan director Imad Hamad – horrified that the allegations are coming from multiple women, including State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and the incidences span over fifteen years of his service with ADC, horrified at how inappropriately the ADC handled the situation when multiple women came forward; still I am excited, by the sheer gumption of Tlaib and many others who are taking a stand.
To be sure, the ADC has been a leading community organization when it comes to advocating on behalf of Muslim and Arab American civil-rights; nevertheless, it is disappointing that the ADC is now largely silent about the complaints of the protesting women. This weekend, it was reported that Hamad retired and was replaced by a younger woman – a common sense PR move, but symbolic change to preserve a legacy without actual improvement is meaningless. How are we supposed to trust the judgment and ethics of an organization that chooses to launch a campaign focused on superfluous issues like the “Arab” mascot while refusing to engage the concerns of the women it has a responsibility to serve?