If You Saw a Racist Poster on the NYC Subway, What Would You Do?

The Egyptian journalist, Mona Eltahawy, spray painted over what she deemed a racist and hateful poster, got into an argument with a woman who defended the poster and then got herself arrested. Could you be as badass as Mona Eltahawy?
Publish date:
September 27, 2012
racism, hate speech, freedom of speech, mona eltahawy

I was raised never to talk back to the police. I am a woman. I am black. This makes sense.

Recently a friend Facebooked (is that right?) me this: "I just witnessed someone yell at a police officer, 'Shut the fuck up!' Guess which race they were." I don't think I could have survived Civil Rights or the beginning of the feminist movement. I hate to admit it, but I might not have been badass enough.

Which is why I now have a huge girl crush on journalist/activist Mona Eltahawy who is no stranger to arrest and protest. Yesterday she made news after "defacing" a ridiculously racist pro-Israel ad posted in a New York Subway station.

The ad, scattered around the city, reads: "In any war between the civilized and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." The racist campaign is spearheaded by Pamela Gellar, lover of Ayn Rand, blogger at Atlas Shrugs and head loon in charge of the anti-Islam group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative. According to Gawker, in July a judge ruled that, "New York's MTA had violated the AFDI's First Amendment rights by rejecting the group's ads for city bus placement."

Yesterday at 2:42 P.M. Mona Eltahawy tweeted, "Meetings done; pink spray paint time #ProudSavage #FuckHate"

When Mona showed up to express her feelings about the poster all over the poster, a woman also named Pamela, who supports "freedom of expression," confronted the Egyptian-born journalist.

"I am expressing myself freely against hate and racism," said Eltahawy.

"Stop it Mona!"

"Get out of my way."

"Stop it Mona."

"I am not going to stop it."

When the police came to arrest her, Mona asked, "For what? It is my right as a citizen to know what you are arresting me for."

"This is what happens to nonviolent protest in America in 2012," she yelled directly into the cameras there filming this whole thing. "If you're on Twitter, tweet that Mona Eltahawy was arrested. M-o-n-a."

Is there some kind of training badass freedom fighters go to that makes them this unafraid? Sure there were people around, a film crew from the NY Post and strap-hangers headed to the next train -- but it still takes a huge amount of guts to not only stand up against blatant bigotry but to also be defiant and in your face about it.

In a recent profile, the New York Times called Mona "a contemporary, feminist version of the Egyptian intellectuals who have long been a thorn in the flesh of their rulers."

"She was a scourge of the regime of Hosni Mubarak as a columnist and op-ed writer, supporting the movement that eventually coalesced and ousted Mr. Mubarak last year. She continues to haunt his successors. She has put herself on the line for her beliefs. She was beaten and sexually assaulted on a side street of Cairo’s Tahrir Square after Mr. Mubarak's ouster."

What do I believe in that strongly? Sure I'm all for women's rights, gay rights, civil rights -- basically if it's got "right" in the tag line then that's exactly what I think it is. But I've never been an activist.

I look at pictures of my mother with a ginormous afro in college and think less about her political statement than I do about how young she looks. I realize I've been lulled into a sort of "everything's okay" nap which I'm startled awake from when something outrageous happens -- here's looking at boogie men like Todd Akin. There are various pillows that make my apolitical naps easier -- education, access, first worldness. Eltahawy refers to them herself when talking about her assault and arrest in Egypt, "I was cushioned and protected by various levels of privilege."

Of course, just musing about whether or not to get off my butt and metaphorically spray paint all over "the man" is a privilege in itself. But hopefully one that will pay for the can of paint and get my trigger finger to itching.