The Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war and suicide bombings worldwide have changed not only the way we live but the way we look at those around us, especially Muslims. "Islamophobia" has entered the American vernacular, and the anti-Muslim attitudes and prejudice it describes remain common.
But what if you witnessed "Islamophobia" in action and saw someone being victimized because of someone else's prejudices? What would you do?
ABC's production crew outfitted The Czech Stop, a bustling roadside bakery north of Waco, Texas, with hidden cameras and two actors. One played a female customer wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf, or hijab. The other acted as a sales clerk who refused to serve her and spouted common anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs.
The polarity of reactions was shocking, from support to seething disapproval. Never did we expect customers to be so passionate or candid.
CLICK HERE for more reactions caught on tape!
Our actor, Sabina, walked into the bakery in search of apple strudel. When she reached the counter, an actor posing as a sales clerk was quick to greet her with hateful anti-Muslim language.
"Get back on the camel and go back to wherever you came from," he said. "You got that towel on your head. I don't know what's underneath your dress. Just please take your business and go elsewhere with it."
"Sir, I am an American, I was born and raised here," she said.
The other customers seemed to hear the exchange but they barely looked toward our actors. When no one came to her defense, Sabina made a direct appeal to one customer.
"Sir, would you mind ordering me an apple strudel? That's why I am here," Sabina said.
Though visibly shaken by the hateful words, the man gave Sabina the cold shoulder, completed his purchase, and walked out of the bakery.
"I really think that a person who owns his own business should be able to say who they sell to," he said after we told him about the experiment.
In fact, it is illegal for public establishments to deny service based on someone's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Regardless, this man was not the only customer to defend our sales clerk's "right" to discriminate.
A little while later, Sabina again entered the bakery, and again our sales clerk refused to serve her. This time, one man spoke up, but not on behalf of the Muslim woman. He was adamant that our sales clerk did the right thing.
"She wasn't dressed right," he said. "If I was running the place I'd do the same thing."
Once again, our sales clerk garnered customer support. After Sabina left the bakery seemingly frustrated and empty-handed, one man thanked the sales clerk for his discriminatory behavior. He then gave our actor a thumbs-up, not once, but twice.
Jack Dovidio, a social psychologist at Yale University, said these men seemed to define "American" based on the way people look. They connected with the sales clerk and considered our female actor an outsider.
"When we as Americans feel threatened from the outside, we're going to define ourselves in very rigid fashions," Dovidio said. "Either you're with me, and if you're not really one of me, then you must be somebody else who's against me."