Since I came to Boston College Law School in the Fall of 2013, the dialogue on campus about race and culture has moved front and center. This semester, part of that continuing dialogue has included BC Law’s promotion of Disgraced, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Muslim-American Ayad Akhtar. Huntington Theater Company summarized the play:
In Disgraced, high-powered New York lawyer Amir has climbed the corporate ladder while distancing himself from his Muslim roots. When he and his wife Emily host a dinner party, what starts as a friendly conversation escalates, shattering their views on race, religion, and each other.
As an American who was raised Muslim, I am acutely aware of how rare it is to find a central, three-dimensional depiction of our community in the mainstream media. The closest I can recall was the short-lived TLC reality show All-American Muslims, which went just eight episodes before succumbing to backlash from bigoted interest groups, cowed advertisers, and low ratings.
Even President Obama, in a touching speech during his recent historic visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, briefly mentioned our conspicuous absence in mainstream storytelling:
Part of what we have to do is to lift up the contributions of the Muslim-American community not when there’s a problem, but all the time. Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security because it’s not that hard to do. There was a time when there were no black people on television. And you can tell good stories while still representing the reality of our communities.
So of course, I was excited to learn that Disgraced even existed. There is much to explore about the Muslim-American story, especially given how fundamentally it changed after 9/11. Since then, Muslim-Americans have been forced to reconcile our identities, both privately and publicly, in the wake of every atrocity carried out in our name. It has been distracting, dehumanizing, and exhausting to endure, not to mention frightening.
Finally, Disgraced was one of us earning the chance to share our story, truthfully and unapologetically; to humanize ourselves in a way that only great art can, warts and all.
I headed into Huntington Theater feeling optimistic and hopeful.
I left feeling betrayed, ashamed, and angry.