Not on the Map

I’m kind of a Mo Amer fan. I have seen two of his standup specials, and recently I watched the first season of Mo on Netflix. I enjoyed it. It’s funny; the characters were realistic and likable; it was easy to watch the whole season in a day or two. It’s easy to relate to their experiences, although sometimes it’s hard to watch – watching the family face the anxiety of their immigration status as asylees, for example.

It took me a few days to realize that part of what was special about it was simply watching Palestinian protagonists on TV. If I think back over my life as a media consumer both in the U.S. and in Europe, the only time you even hear the word “Palestine” is in the context of violence or tragedy. I appreciate that the show puts us in touch with the humanity of the Palestinian experience. It’s not a debate or a persuasive essay – it’s just sharing a story.

How did it take almost 40 years for me to see a show with Palestinian characters? What forces were opposing this kind of representation? About 200,000 Palestinians live in the United States. Why did it take so long?

It was hard to hear how common it was for Mo (and other Palestinians, like author Linda Sarsour) to get blank or insulting reactions when they’re telling people they’re from Palestine – “Oh, you mean Israel.”

In the series, Mo says, “it’s a real branding issue”, which is a smooth and lighthearted way of dealing with persistent and alienating questions about identity.

Author Linda Sarsour relates a similar experience in We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders (the first book in our upcoming book club!):

“When I told the kids at my public school that my family was from Palestine, the response was always the same.

‘Palestine? Where’s that?’ they’d ask, brows wrinkling.

‘It’s all the way on the other side of the world, in a place called the Middle East,’ I would explain in a patient and reasonable voice, though inside I was churning with frustration and just wanted to disappear. ‘It’s right near Syria and Jordan.’ I would continue, ‘It’s the Holy Land, where Jesus was born.’ I was always trying to add more explanations, always trying to prove my national and cultural origins” (15).

In the same passage, she gives another example of a student teasing her because Palestine is not on the map: “His playful questions filled me with shame. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t show I was from Palestine, or that such a place even existed” (17).

Jokes about our roots are not very funny. Most of us remember the intense anxiety of trying to belong as kids. Part of what both artists are exploring is the rejection and exclusion of not fitting into the premade American boxes. What is the cost of belonging? What are the consequences of marginalization or rejection?

These kinds of microaggressions have a major impact on our communities and should not be taken too lightly. Mo addresses the issue of mental health; racist or Islamophobic microaggression can impact your physical health as well.

Mo Amer explains in an interview: “The show is about belonging. Feeling seen. The idea of statelessness. Generational displacement and trauma. What does that do to a person?”

MLFA is standing up for the rights of Muslims in the United States. We’re creating a shift from fear to empowered action. This affects the client we’re defending in court, and this affects our kids’ experiences at school.

Here are some ways that MLFA fights for a country that keeps its promises:

by Jeannine Sherman – Thursday 8, 2022



For anyone with Palestinian roots like me, Netflix’s sitcom Mo is groundbreaking TV | Arwa Mahdawi | The Guardian

How Racism And Microaggressions Lead To Worse Health | Center for Health Journalism

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