Dear Brooke: On ‘Alice in Arabia’ and the White Savior Complex

Editor’s note: We have reached out to Brooke for a one-on-one interview to keep the lines of communication open and to offer an opportunity for a response. The following post was one reaction by our readers of the many we received in response to the Alice in Arabia controversy over the past week. 

We Can Save Ourselves

Alice in Arabia and the need to “help” Muslim women

muslim woman and white savior slider

Dear Brooke Eikmeier,

I get it. It’s been rough. The past few weeks have been quite the whirlwind for you – first, your “Alice in Arabia” script was given the greenlight by ABC Family to produce pilot episodes, and four days later, it was scrapped because a seemingly-faceless mob demanded it be taken down because they perceived it to reinforce a racist, narrow trope about Arabs and Muslims. Everything started out rosy and with such promise for you, only to be shot down by people who, in your words, were “making assumptions and hating on something [they didn’t] know the details about.” You spoke out earlier today in a very  carefully written, words so meticulously chosen, article on The Hollywood Reporter that was intended to shame those who spoke out.

Isn’t it difficult, trying to speak for people who refuse to let you speak for them? By people, I mean Muslim and Arab Americans, who came out in droves against your “high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian.” The very people you say you wanted to help out were angry with the fact that you chose to rely on stereotypes about Muslims, pitting the culture of the Arabian/Muslim culture (I didn’t know those were exclusively synonymous until your show taught me, thank you!) against the culture of America, all seen through the eyes of an innocent, “mixed race” American girl. Myself, and other Muslim and Arab Americans, weren’t supposed to feel stripped of our stories and voices, and say anything about your show. Because, when we exercised our right to opinion, we became, in your eyes, “ group of people making assumptions..and  launched an unfortunately successful reactionary campaign” that was victorious in telling you that you were not here to tell our stories.

Here’s the thing, Brooke. From one American writer to another, from one woman to the next. This is not your story to tell. Although I don’t doubt your desire to reflect a more nuanced society in “Arabia,” it cannot and will not replace listening to the women who live through their own narratives, and acknowledging the multidimensionality of Arabs and Muslims themselves. Time and again throughout this entire debacle, from the first day news of the pilot broke to the ensuing #AliceinArabia Twitter-storm to the rising up of Muslims and Arab American writers and organizations against the narrow-minded stereotypes your pilot script propagated to the day the show was cancelled, you refused to understand where we were coming from. You refused to pay attention to the very people you said you were giving voice to – and when we naturally succeeded in getting those ABC Family studio executives to pay attention to our concerns with your narrative, you were furious.

And that’s understandable, because you have what I like to call a healthy case of white savior complex. I’ll go ahead and remind you of it, since it can be difficult to understand amidst all the emotions and explanations you have been giving: white savior complex is what happens when you speak for others from a place of privilege, and refuse to acknowledge their stories to be legitimate or their opinions to have any merit.

It may seem that my words lack compassion and empathy for where you come from, but I do not feel compelled to provide you with further benefit of the doubt, following your article. I, along with other Arab and Muslim Americans who felt silenced by your television show, were well within our right to feel angry, and to exercise our right to want to consume media that helped us, instead of media that only served to further shove us into a oft-used hole ripe with stereotypes, tropes and characters tired of playing the same old storylines through.

If you really want to work to make the story of Muslim and Arab Americans known, know that there is no one story.

If you actually believe in giving voice to those you perceive to be voiceless, know that co-opting our narrative helps nobody but yourself.

If you truly thought that you were moving in the right direction, understand that next time, it would be good for you to step aside and help Arab and Muslim American writers move ahead in telling their stories, instead.

If you were truly our ally, you would have attempted to understand our concerns. But the truth of the matter is, you were never our ally. You were simply taking the experiences of those who still intrigue and captivate the minds of Americans (I mean, come on. Where is “Arabia” anyways?) and spinning their stories into a narrative that you elected yourself spokesperson for. I grew up reading and watching the stories of people who were “supposed” to be like me, written by people who were like you. I never found myself in those stories, because they were never about me. They were about your perceptions of who people like me – Arabs and Muslims – are, and that’s why I refuse to let you co-opt my story, and the countless stories of  Arab and Muslim Americans, any longer.

Ultimately, it would be interesting to have a dialogue with you, to understand – beyond your attempts at teaching “the mob” what we missed out on – where you come from and whether you are willing to listen to our stories – and I invite you to do so. Until that moment arrives, know that it is not your responsibility to speak for us. We can speak for ourselves.


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  • About the autor
    Laila Alawa

    Laila Alawa is a cultural pundit, social entrepreneur​ ​and digital strategist. She is​ ​the founder and president of Coming of Fait​h​,​ ​LLC, ​associate editor at The Islamic Monthly, manages nonprofit communications and media outreach,​ ​and​ ​​regularly​ ​​writes columns for The Huffington Post, ​Mic​,​ and The Guardian.​ ​​To learn more about her work, visit her at​ ​

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