Jack G. Shaheen, retired professor of communications at Southern Illinois University, died Sunday, July 9, after a short battle with cancer. He was 81.
His death brought to a sudden end, his five-decade fight against the stereotyping of "Bad Arabs" in movies and television.
I have maintained regular contact with Jack since our first encounter in 1978. My most recent email from him arrived in March of this year, informing me that he had once again sent this blog's link to his list.
Our first encounter came in August, 1978, when I was the editor of The Christian Century magazine in Chicago. Jack sent me a manuscript "over the transom" -- media jargon for "unsolicited."
We immediately accepted it, using Jack's title, "The TV Arab."
In October, 1978, the Wall Street Journal published an expanded version of The Christian Century essay. In 1984, Jack expanded that article into a book with the same title.
Dr. Shaheen's writing career and numerous public lectures brought him to the attention of Hollywood, where film producers sought his counsel on how to overcome their "bad Arabs" material.
Jack told me how long it had taken him to bring public attention to his "Bad Arab" essay:
"In the Fall of 1975, I completed the essay you published in August 1978. I had just returned to Southern Illinois University from Beirut where I had been teaching as a Fulbright scholar.
"I tried for three years to have someone publish 'The TV Arab.' Somewhere in my hidden files I have all the rejection letters I received from 50-plus magazines/newspapers.
"The most memorable rejection came from the editor [of a prominent publication]. She refused to publish it, using an excuse that it was too well-written. She told me other 'minority' writers would want her to publish similar essays, but their essays would not be as 'good' as mine. Honest!"
After three years of waiting and 50 rejections, "the TV Arab" appeared -- for the first time -- in The Christian Century in August, 1978.
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