There are 4,000–5,000 Yemeni-run bodegas in New York City, and it was just over two years ago that our community truly grasped the power that gives us.
When the travel ban was declared in January 2017, thousands of Yemeni bodega owners shut down their stores in solidarity with those banned from the US or separated from their families, and to stand against hatred and bigotry. These stores are the indispensable fabric of New York, and the city, and the country, took notice.
Now we’re standing against those things again — this time by boycotting the New York Post.
The tabloid published an image of the burning Twin Towers alongside a quote suggesting Rep. Ilhan Omar didn’t take the deaths of 9/11 seriously, fanning the flames of hatred against her and Muslims. We’re demanding a public apology to Omar, Muslim Americans, and those who were vilified and maligned in the Post’s pages.
Omar — the first black, Muslim, and hijabi woman elected to Congress — has been outspoken on behalf of Muslim Americans, and New York City’s Yemeni community is ready to stand with her. And the Post’s cover was just the latest episode in its long, dark history of publishing hateful and racist content. We are banding together to stand against this trend — and we certainly won’t help the Post earn money from publishing hate.
For as long as I can remember, the Post has been targeting powerful Arab and Muslim women in New York City. In 2007, it campaigned against community activist Debbie Almontaser and her creation, the Khalil Gibran school. She received death threats and was unable to travel without security, and the ambitious education project essentially died when New York City Department of Education “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel,” a report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated. It has campaigned incessantly against the outspoken activist Linda Sarsour, whom a Post headline called the city’s “queen of hate.” New York tabloids aren’t known for being gentle to anyone — but there’s a special vitriol and obsession here. And I cannot help but feel that they're being targeted for being powerful, outspoken hijabis — much like Omar.
And while the Post has reportedly been pulled closer into line with Rupert Murdoch’s often extreme Fox News in recent months, its editorial line has always been laced with disdain for Islam, from the cover of the horrible San Bernardino shootings — “Muslim Killers” — to editorializing against observing Eid al-Fitr in public schools.
I came to the US from Yemen as a 6-year-old in the 1980s, and throughout my life I have felt the impact of the Post's inflammatory stories about Muslims. I remember, as a teen, going into a grocery store with my mother (who is a hijabi). An enraged white woman came up to my mom shouting, “You dirty Arab terrorists! Get the fuck out of our country!” — before slapping her in the face. A copy of the Post was in her other hand. Growing up, I would also dread classmates seeing its racist covers and articles published by the tabloid, targeting Arabs and Muslims. I did everything I could to avoid going into grocery stores with my non-Arab friends so I could avoid seeing the Post’s cover each day — since there were so many portraying Muslims and Arabs as monstrous terrorists.
But these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Other Arab and Muslim American leaders, as well as everyday people, have stories like mine.
Now we’re fighting back.
While the war in Yemen has divided our community since 2015, Trump’s hatred has managed to unify us here in New York. Since our coordinated strike in 2017, we’ve been organizing nonstop, and the ability to flex our political power through our pocketbooks has given us a sense of power and agency.
Yemeni bodegas are open around the clock in New York City. We make your favorite breakfast sandwiches and have that roll of toilet paper you need at 2 a.m. We keep an eye on the neighborhood and run small businesses that contribute to the city’s hum of economic activity. And we sell you your news — though that will no longer include the New York Post.
Let me be clear: Yemeni American merchants don’t oppose the Post’s right to speak under the First Amendment. We are saying we don’t have to be a megaphone for that hateful speech. We are saying: Enough is enough. While its bigoted attack on Omar may have sparked the call for a boycott, anti-Muslim rhetoric is not new for the Post. Yemeni Americans have seen firsthand the benefits of organizing, and we will not accept the incitement of violence against marginalized communities of color to be sold at our stores.
And just as the Post has the right to keep publishing, we have the right to stop doing business with it.
Rabyaah Althaibani is an Arab American community organizer and activist who has spent the last 15 years organizing the Yemeni American community in NYC.