TV show Roseanne tackles xenophobia with good old-fashioned humanity: Sheema Khan

Humanity and understanding are good approaches:

It seems that everyone has an opinion about the reboot of the TV show Roseanne. This stems from the support by Roseanne Barr (and her TV character Roseanne Conner) of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Nonetheless, the show has tackled contemporary issues with nuance, comedy and good old-fashioned humanity.

Take the most recent episode, in which a Muslim refugee family (the al-Harazis) from Yemen moves next door to the Conners. Roseanne is immediately suspicious about the “large amounts” of fertilizer stacked near their garage. They could be a sleeper cell planning a terrorist attack, she surmises to her sister, Jackie, and a friend, who push back against the naked bigotry.

Later in the evening, Roseanne’s visiting granddaughter, Mary, is scheduled to Skype her mother who is stationed in Afghanistan. There’s a glitch in the internet connection − so Roseanne does what she’s always done – hack her neighbour’s WiFi. However, the WiFi password next door has changed. Roseanne’s guess? “deathtoamerica.” When that doesn’t work, she tries “deathtoamerica123.” Her feisty daughter Darlene responds derisively to a thought process steeped in stereotypes.

Finally, Roseanne and Jackie decide to visit their Muslim neighbours at 2 a.m. to ask for their password, with Mary yearning to connect with her mother. While Jackie brings a houseplant as an offering, Roseanne arms herself with a baseball bat. They are greeted by Salim al-Harazi who opens the door, also armed with a baseball bat. Fear meets fear in the heart of America. After initial mutual awkwardness, Roseanne explains the reason for their visit. Salim’s wife, Fatima, joins the conversation and we begin to witness the humanization of the “other.” The stacked bags of fertilizer? Too many inadvertent hits on the Amazon cart. There is a poignant moment when the couple’s young son awakens and worries about the commotion. Fatima reassures him with soothing words and a kiss, sending him back to bed. What’s striking is the bulletproof vest worn by the child. Fatima explains that the family has been subject to harassment that has frightened their son; he sleeps with the vest to feel safe.

This scene is transformational, as fear is vanquished with the discovery of common decency. While the Conners and al-Harazis may come from different sides of the globe, they arrive at a common point of compassion, where families strive to provide the universal goals of safety and security.

The next day, Roseanne meets Fatima at the local grocery checkout. When Fatima’s food stamps and debit card are not enough to pay for her groceries, the cashier makes snide remarks to Fatima about fleecing American taxpayers and her “camel” waiting outside. In spite of her own dire finances, Roseanne steps in to pay for Fatima and then berates the cashier, while emphasizing the need to understand the everyday struggles of a new family fleeing war.

I must confess that this was the first time I have watched Roseanne. My TV staple includes The Good Fight, Black-ish and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Nonetheless, I was moved by this episode – for the simple truths it portrayed.

It also made me reflect upon my own anxieties – some absurd, some well-founded.

For example, there is the annual spring debate: Should I stack the fertilizer bags outside the garage (since I have nothing to hide), or inside the garage (to avoid prying eyes)?

Or, the time I was walking through Trudeau airport with my husband, lagging behind him since I was tired. I then realized that people would see a Muslim woman walking three steps behind her husband, thus confirming stereotypes. I rushed to join his side.

The anxieties heighten when children are involved. Once, my son returned with excitement after his bantam hockey team meeting: The players had chosen “Bombers” as the team name. I was horrified, emphatically advising my son to make it clear that he was talking about hockey when mentioning the “Bombers” in every phone and internet conversation. Prior to our trip to a Vermont hockey tournament, I worried that a U.S. border guard would ask my Muslim son the name of his team.

I can laugh at these incidents now. But the anxieties remain – especially in light of the Quebec City massacre.

And let’s not forget the damaging effect of xenophobia on children, who only crave safety in a complex world.

When Fatima shares her password (“goCubs”) with Roseanne, so that the girl can connect with her mother, she shares a message we should all take to heart: “children should never suffer from the ignorance of adults.”

via TV show Roseanne tackles xenophobia with good old-fashioned humanity – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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