Link to a  Close Up feature on my mission

Link to a front page article from The Washington Post, which refers to my work after September 11.

Listen to an audio interview with me, on Chicago Public Radio's program, Worldview. 

Click on the calendar or scroll down to September 9, 2004, Global Activism story, after clicking here




Stereotypes in the media teach us to be able to instantly recognize the heroes, the heroines, the villains. Villains often fall into certain ethnic groups. (See Reel Bad Arabs, a short montage of media portrayals of Arab ‘bad guys’ on YouTube.) The typical hero is never from a minority group and is always handsome and hard-bodied. The heroine is always a standard beauty.

And we know what standard beauty is. Appearance-ism--valuing people based on their appearance--saturates our culture. We assign worth and we think we know a person's nature, based on his or her appearance.

So it is not surprising that in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, innocent Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, South Asians and others, most of whom were U.S. citizens, were victims of self-avowed, so-called "patriots", who, although they couldn't get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive", could go after the guy behind the counter at their local gas station or convenience store. In the year following 9/11, there was a 1700% spike in acts of vandalism, arson, assault and even murder directed toward these groups (according to a report by Human Rights Watch). Insults, stereotyping, and assaults are still pervasive in these highly charged times.

The first such murder was of a Sikh service station owner, in Mesa, Arizona. Sikhs are not Muslim They wear turbans as part of their religious observance. The murderer sat in a bar before the attack, bragging about his intention to "kill the ragheads" responsible .

The same day, September 15, 2001, two other such murders took place; one of an Egyptian Christian man in California, who had brought his family to the U.S. for religious tolerance, the other, a Pakistani Muslim, father of four, in Texas. The Texas murderer carried out another assault, and then another murder, before he was apprehended. His second murder was of the Hindu victim, described in the heartbreaking Washington Post article, above.

As I became acquainted with the families of some of these victims, I realized a terrible irony. Not only were these victims totally innocent of any relationship to terrorism. They were truly good, generous members of their communities, more than almost anyone. How many gas station owners will give gas, on personal credit, to those who pull into a station, short on cash?

I also came to realize that, to some extent, what I was doing was healing, rather than increasing, the anger and resentment that could be a natural consequence for the families who had experienced these tragedies and other members of targeted groups who may hear of my work (though I never witnessed anything but exceptional grace and goodness in the people with whom I became close). At least I knew that I was part of the overall solution, not the problem.

When we make snap judgments about people, based on appearance, or some other stereotype or assumption, at minimum we lose the opportunity to get to know who is really standing in front of us. To do actual violence, based on these judgments, is tragic and terrible. When entire groups are marginalized and targeted, the implications become horrifying.

Sometimes violence which stems from appearance-ism is directed to ourselves in the form of self-hatred, body hatred, eating disorders, etc. Sometimes we actually dispose of parts of ourselves, wanting the objectionable physical parts to be, literally, cut away and destroyed. While we would never sanction genocide, we actually turn an almost genocidal hatred toward ourselves, toward parts of our natural bodies. The Chinese sanctioned foot-binding for a thousand years, and our culture, too, sanctions extreme make-overs which entail medical complications we make light of.

As a result of such destruction, something--or someone--very precious is irrevocably lost to us. If we feel disgust and rage at ourselves when we look in a mirror, or if we feel disgust and rage when we see a stranger, perhaps of some particular ethnicity, most likely a large measure of our contempt is based on culturally indoctrinated stereotypes that have cued us to believe that appearance is linked to value, or that we can justifiably discount all members of a designated group.

To counteract such rage, hatred, and destruction...

we must become the true heroes and heroines, fighting against the stereotyping and the messaging that saturates our culture...

...whether, as mothers, standing in front of a mirror, with our daughters by our sides, vowing to never make denigrating remarks about our natural appearance, never to role-model body hatred,

…or by committing to become personally connected with individuals from groups which are designated as ‘Other’,

...or by writing letters to the editor of our local papers, or calling news desks to protest stereotyping,

…or committing to be part of the solution rather than the problem of injustice, violence, terror, and even war,

--it is up to us to change the destructive wave.

YES, SOMETIMES GOOD GUYS DO WEAR TURBANS. In these times, it is essential for us to resist our culturally indoctrinated habit of making snap judgments, based on sound clips, rumor, appearance, stereotypes, etc. We need to slow down, and take the time to understand and appreciate the depth of people and of complex situations. Get to know someone who is from some 'other' group. Remember, you are the 'other' to them, too...which is how it becomes possible for people to destroy one another.

No one ever volunteers to be 'collateral damage' for someone else's 'big cause', or believes that their own loved ones are appropriate sacrifices in acts of hatred and destruction. We must insure, by our own great efforts, that we don't sanction anyone becoming considered dispensable, becoming collateral damage. How else will we heal the deep rifts of our time, except by standing against polarizing injustice, and by changing minds and hearts, (including our own), by dispelling stereotypes--one relationship at a time?

Check out the links, above, to hear my story and my voice on these issues.

Contact:  info@anyacordell.com or 847-331-6022