In light of all the recent anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, the Christian Science Monitor poses this question: Could the solution to countering prejudice be as simple as watching a sitcom featuring relatable Muslim characters? According to Sohad Murrar, a scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, entertainment is one of the most effective ways to improve intergroup relations and promote diversity.
“Entertainment media play a critical role in shaping people’s feelings, attitudes and behaviors,” says Ms. Murrar. “Narratives that promote diversity and positive social change can improve…relations by…reducing bias and increasing identification with minority groups.”
Dr. Kavita Daiya, a visiting chair in the humanities at Albright College, agrees and says that “studies have shown that an increase in positive representations of minority characters in our mass media, especially television, can help people relate to others, especially those perceived as very different from them on the basis of race, nationality, religion, sexuality, etc. By making others relatable – whether they are gay, black, or Muslim – these representations can reduce viewers’ prejudice.”
But the key, researchers say, is portraying minorities, such as Muslim characters, as nuanced, three-dimensional people who aren’t just the go-to “bad guy.” “If the only representations in news media are of Muslims as violent, or African Americans as gangsters, then they are simply perpetuating a harmful stereotype which can lead to violence,” says Dr. Daiya. “So if we have more stories about, if we see more different Muslim experiences in mainstream media, in all their complex diversity, then we can reduce prejudice.”