The Racialization of Islam in American Law

Date01 September 2011
Published date01 September 2011
184 ANNALS, AAPSS, 637, September 2011
After 9/11, the “Muslim terrorist” trope altered the
American understanding of Islam. This article argues
that the Muslim terrorist in our popular culture should
not be seen as new but within an established tradition
of racializing Asian Americans. The article employs three
dimensions of racialization: raced body, racial category,
and ascribed subordination. The raced body is the “brown ”
body of immigrants and descendants of immigrants
from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central
and Southern Asia. “Muslim” as a racial category
has acquired meaning beyond religion and now also
describ es a racial category: those whose ancestry traces
to countries where Islam is significant. Linked to that
category are the stereotypes of “terrorist,” “spy,” or
“saboteur”—understandings within the tradition of char-
acterizing Asian Americans as permanent, unassimilable
foreigners. Inscribing the linked racial category and
ascribed subordination of permanent foreignness upon
the “brown” raced body is the racialization of Muslims
into Muslim terrorists.
Keywords: Muslim; Islam; terrorist; racialization; Asian
American; racial subordination; birther
Introduction: Postracialism and
the “Birther” Movement
With remarkable ease, postracialism has come
to summarize the state of race relations in
America—that race and its corrosive effect on
American society are now largely behind us.
The election of Barack Obama, claim the advo-
cates of postracialism, marked our turn into an
era in which race is no longer a pervasive pres-
ence in politics, culture, and the economy. While
Racialization of
Islam in
American Law
Neil Gotanda is a professor of law at Western State
University College of Law. Coeditor of Critical Race
Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement,
he has written on racial theory, constitutional color-
blindness, and Asian American jurisprudence. His work
has appeared in journals such as Asian American Law
Journal, Stanford Law Review, and Columbia Law
Review. In 2008, he delivered the inaugural Neil
Gotanda Lecture in Asian American Jurisprudence at
UC Berkeley School of Law.
DOI: 10.1177/0002716211408525

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