The TLC reality t.v. show “All-American Muslim” follows the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan. One of the show’s themes is the lingering discrimination American Muslims confront in the post 9/11 world. Home improvement retail giant Lowe’s demonstrated just how spot on this theme is last week when it pulled its advertising from the show in response to pressure from Florida Family Association, a conservative Christian group that lobbies companies to promote “traditional, biblical values.” The Christian group apparently objects to the show because it portrays Muslims too positively, making them look like normal Americans. Lowe’s caved to the group’s pressure and pulled its ads, claiming the show has become a “lightning rod.”
The public reaction has been pretty swift and severe, which in my opinion is a good thing. The Florida Family Association’s objection to the show is bigotry, plain and simple. Many consider Lowe’s decision to be swayed by the group’s lobbying efforts to be spineless, at best. As one Muslim community leader analogized, imagine the reaction if a company pulled its ads from “The Cosby Show” or “Seinfeld” based on objections that they portrayed African Americans or Jews as normal people. Society would be outraged.
It’s undeniable that stereotypes about Muslims are pervasive. How does this fact impact employers and HR? They must tread carefully when confronted with such prejudices and remember a couple of important rules. First, customer bias is not an excuse for discrimination. The courts are unanimous on this point. Second, they must be vigilant in preventing and responding to any potential harassment issues in the workplace. As in football, a good defense can be the best offense. If you see these issues brewing, act quickly to train your employees on your (hopefully impeccably written) anti-discrimination and harassment policies in particular, and on respect in the workplace in general.