Humor is tricky: Shawarma distancing guideline creates heat in Dearborn

June 30, 2020, 11:02 AM by  Alan Stamm

What some people see as edgy humor others view as over the edge. Jokers on stages and at social settings can trip into that trap, and now so does a Dearborn civic agency.

It yanked Covid safety signs with the message below that stirs offense. In online discussions, residents with a different perspective decry the removal.

(Photo: Facebook/Rana Yaacoub)

The reminders stood on Michigan Avenue and elsewhere in east and west Dearborn, the Freep reports.   

But [the] attempt ... to use lighthearted humor to get people to stay at least 6 feet apart during the pandemic has backfired as tone-deaf and insensitive to the city’s large Arab American population. ...

The signs have since disappeared after officials at the Dearborn Downtown Development Authority realized they were offensive based on social media pushback.

"There was no intent to make people feel negative about this or offended," said Cristina Sheppard-Decius, the organization’s executive director. "This was really meant to celebrate food and culture in our community. ... Our intent was to really encourage people to come back out into our downtown and feel like they're safe to be able to do so."

Yasmeen Kadouh: "Our identities are being made fun of." (Photo: Facebook)

In the eyes of Dearborn Girl podcaster Yasmeen Kadouh, however, "using shawarma paves the way for people to make insensitive comments to Dearborn," she tells the paper.

"Everything about the campaign was tone-deaf. ... We feel like our identities are being made fun of."

Others are amused and also fact-check the belief that shawarma roll-ups are only three inches long. 

"I don't know what shawarmas they’re eating -- this should be more like 12. They have the math wrong," posts Fathi Abdelsalam, a 36-year-old adjunct business instructor at Wayne State University. 

Sally Howell, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, agrees: "Crazy math, but a great metric. ... It is a celebration, acknowledgment, and bit of silliness. Not an insult!"

Hungry yet for chicken shawarma?

These other voices are under the sign photo on Howell's Facebook page:

  • "This is insulting." -- Assad Turfe, Dearborn

  • "Wow, it's catastrophic how small shawarma sandwiches have gotten! Someone should tell them they're doing themselves a disfavor by advertising 3" shawarmas when they're more like 1.5 feet." -- Yasmeen Sabah Honoosh (two posts)

  • "I could really go for one." -- Taylor Corbit, Chesterfield Township

  • "Wait, do we really have to explain why '24 shawarma sandwiches apart' is problematic -- in Dearborn especially, but literally anywhere? Imagine if they had put up signs in Detroit telling people to stand '15 buckets of fried chicken' apart. Just think about that for a minute. ... A racist joke isn't any less racist because it's a joke." -- Joshua White, Kalamazoo (2 posts)

  • "Whenever anyone thinks of shawarma, they think of Arab cuisine. Yes, it can be offensive.
    And to any white person on this thread who thinks they can tell an Arab what they should be offended by, you need to check your privilege. It is up to us to define what is offensive towards our community and what isn't. Each Arab individual can determine this for themselves. You are not allowed to hop in and claim what is offensive if you do not have the lived experience of being an Arab in America. Period." -- Sahar Dika, Chicago

  • "I don't find this prejudiced or racist at all because as you said, there's no negative association between Arabs and shawarma. ... I saw this as a celebration of Arab culture in Dearborn and I thought it was hilarious.
    "I can see why some thought it was offensive though, especially in times like these, and I respect that. But I do think that if a survey was done it’d be a minority. So that begs the question, at what point would the feelings of a small group of people warrant taking something like this down?" -- Pam Yaacoub, Chicago

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