Framing the Health of American Muslims in the Era of Rising White Supremacy

For this writing, I am brainstorming about how I want to write the introduction to my dissertation. I have several ideas that I want to connect together. First, we are in an era of rising white nationalism and violent hate crimes against American Muslims. As funds for developing American Muslim communities are usually tied to funds from the Department of Homeland Security and its task force of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), social workers are often pressured to be surveillance agents of the state when working in these communities. The threat of constant surveillance, discrimination, and overt violence directly affects the social capital and health of American Muslim people.

Because of the overemphasis on CVE, American Muslims are subject to a narrative of violent extremism despite the fact that a majority of violent extremist acts in the United States occur from homegrown white nationalists. This narrative directly influences the identity of American Muslims and creates contention in creating a self-authored identity. While the formation of identity is a social process that does not occur individually, social workers can aid in promoting the positive and communally self-authored identity for American Muslims outside of the narrative of terrorism.

The discourse of terrorism not only has implications for identity formulation but also produces an environment where violence against American Muslims is more permissible, albeit still illegal. This is evidenced by the rise in hate crimes against American Muslims post 9–11 and during the campaigning and election of President Donald Trump. Islamophobia experienced by American Muslims has a direct effect on their social realities and their physical and mental health.

Discrimination has clearly been linked with mechanisms that produce poor health outcomes such as morbidity and mortality. These mechanisms include rising levels of cortisol, rising heart rate, reducing the length of telomeres, and activation of disease-producing genes through epigenetics. American Muslims are not an exception to their response to this level of stress.

Additionally, social capital plays an important role in bonding American Muslim communities together, though discrimination and Islamophobia may unfortunately also inhibit other social opportunities that people need to thrive in a democratic society. Social capital is clearly a means of surviving and thriving in American Society. As white supremacy seeks to diminish the social capital of American Muslims, it also consequentially inhibits full social participation and opportunity that our society has to offer.

Since the effects of Islamophobia so clearly affect the bodies of American Muslim people, social workers are ethically obligated to be a line of defense against xenophobic and white nationalist sentiments. Social workers can incorporate practices that unsettle dominant discourses, and empower self-authorship. The literature already exists for how identity is philosophically constructed for American Muslims. Social workers can leverage this work to incorporate American Muslim voices in individual and community intervention. Additionally, social workers can play a role in increasing social opportunities for American Muslim communities and provide means for communities to contextually meet the needs of their members.