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Zayn Malik Facing Racism and Islamophobia

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Article by: shriya khera

I joined the One Direction fandom during Quarantine. I was sitting in my bed watching YouTube and suddenly- “iiin West Philadelphia born and raised-”. And then, you know, I downloaded TikTok and Twitter and now the word ‘Home’ makes my heart tingle. I see so much love and support directed towards the boys and it’s incredible. But I also see ignorance and sometimes that’s even more harmful than the problem.

Being a member of a successful, globally famous boy band unfortunately does not exclude you from the stereotypes and prejudices from the media or the public. In fact, I’d even argue it amplifies it. Zayn Malik, the only Muslim person of colour in One Direction, faced and still faces racism and there’s no way to sugar coat the fact. 

If you have a twitter account you’d know how active the boys used to be when the band was formed but in 2012, 19 year old Zayn tweeted this before deactivating- 

Fans were obviously devastated that Zayn left and tried to trend hashtags in support such as 

#ZaynComeBack, tweeting the One Direction twitter account to show Zayn their love.

In an interview with The Sun’s ‘Fabulous’ Magazine, Zayn opened up about why he deactivated his twitter account. “Nasty things [were said] like I’m a terrorist, and this and that. How can you justify that? How can you call me that and get away with it?” 

He also talked about how there was hate directed towards him and his family because of their faith and religious beliefs. “My little cousin put up a family picture at Eid because she got a photo with Perrie and she was so happy about it. But then everybody just gave it to me double barrel.”

But the cyberbullying and targeting his religion and culture didn’t stop there. Many people had a lot to say about there being a Muslim member in the predominantly white boyband. One of these people was an extreme right wing blogger who wrote a whole article about how Zayn was “pimping Islam onto children through his boy band Jihad.” The whole article[1] is a load of crap and it shows you just how easy it is for people to take every little aspect of your life and give it a negative connotation. I don’t see the media rushing to hate on Harry about the cross tattooed on his hand. Or when Niall says ‘I’m Irish’ no one comes running calling him slurs. Now I’m not saying the rest of the boys weren’t portrayed in a negative light by the media or by their management because they did, but the only person targeted because of his race, religion, and colour of skin was Zayn Malik. Go figure.

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. A year later in July 2013, Zayn faced a racist attack after a song called ‘Zayn did 9/11’ hit the internet, accusing the singer of being involved in the September 11th NYC bombing. I don’t even want to get started on how ridiculously offensive and overwhelmingly false this song is, not to mention he was probably 8 at the time, and halfway across the world, but of course who worries about the details before putting out a song for the entire, goddamn, world to hear?! The cover photo was Zayn’s silhouette in front of the burning Twin Towers. It was available to buy and download on iTunes and a while later it was uploaded to Spotify. What worries me the most is that most people didn’t take this seriously. It was filed under ‘comedy’ and considered ‘funny.’

It took 9 whole years for Spotify to remove this song after fans trended the hashtag #removeitforzayn and voiced their complaints about how it was blatantly Islamophobic and racist.   

Of course harassing Zayn online wasn’t enough. The lengths people will go to spread hate and negativity disgusts me. Here’s a picture of one of the signs that was brought by a ‘fan’ to a One Direction concert in 2013 – Oakland, July 31, 2013. How it was even allowed into the venue is beyond me, let alone the fact that it was held up long enough for him to read. 

I used to get upset at all this but now it just angers me that people are so full of hate and prejudice. I’m not saying I know how Zayn feels, but I’m Indian, the colour of my skin is brown, and I grew up in the UK (not too far from Bradford actually), so I’ve faced my fair share of bullying and harassment. All I’m saying is I know what it’s like to feel unwelcome, to second guess every word you say and every move you make. No matter what Zayn said in interviews, or how he carried himself, none of it really made a difference.

The fact that he felt the need to wear this shirt makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. In 2014 Zayn had shown his support for Palestine by tweeting #FreePalestine which led to people accusing him of ‘supporting terrorism’. In October of 2015, just a couple months after leaving the band, he was seen walking out of Nobu restaurant in London wearing Vivienne Westwod’s ‘I am not a terrorist, please don’t arrest me’ T- shirt. 

From the get-go Zayn was given a character he had to play within the band: the mysterious one. Why? Because he had brown skin? Because he was different? The rebel, the unpredictable one, the Bradford Bad Boy. Why couldn’t he be ‘the cute one,’ ‘the shy one,’ or ‘the one with the killer bone structure,’ I mean, have you SEEN his jawline?! The more you ask yourself why the half-Pakistani member of the boyband was named ‘the mysterious one’ the more you realise it was because he was half Pakistani. Because his name was Zayn Malik. In a post One Direction interview for Complex cover story, Zayn said, “In terms of being described as the mysterious one, that was put on me as a stigma because I didn’t get the chance to speak as much.” And as Zayn grew up this image was only used against him. Whether it was his tattoos, or the fact that he smokes, or his appearance.

Here’s an example: November 2013, 1D Day Interview with Piers Morgan[2]. This entire interview was awkward and uncomfortable, but when it gets to Zayn, it’s downright racist. Piers starts off by talking about Zayn’s recent ‘interesting tattoo’ and asks to see it on camera. When Zayn declines, twice, saying it’s in sort of a private area, Piers goes on to ask, “is it a big gun?” Z is clearly uncomfortable and you can hear Louis in the back go ‘it’s a water gun’ which Zayn repeats but Piers continues saying it’s not. I just want to add that this interview was being live streamed. Piers continues “People want to know why you have a gun tattooed on your body.” Because he wants to, Piers. Because he fucking wants to. This whole bit sounds more like an interrogation than an interview. Piers’ tone and comments are accusatory. This is NOT the regular flavour of inappropriate, celebrity interview questioning- this is harassment. This is racism.  

And while we’re on the topic of Piers Morgan, let’s visit some of his recent comments about Zayn after that Yolanda scandal where Zayn was accused of hitting Yolanda but later it was revealed that Yolanda had lied because she wanted to get Zayn deported. 

Quick side note: there were a lot of us who knew Zayn didn’t do anything but there were also a large number of people who were having doubts. Now this to me is more alarming than upsetting because when has Zayn ever given you a reason to believe he’d act this way? If you bring up the Logan brothers situation I urge you to keep in mind 2 things:

1. The Paul brothers quite literally found fame through scandals. 

2.The Paul brothers are racist. Don’t take my word for this one – I’ve got proof. 

Jake Paul was caught using the N-word when on Jan 5, 2018, a video emerged[3] of him hanging out with his friends after the 2017 Coachella festival. He was freestyle rapping to Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw 

Some Mo.” and included the lines “little ass n—as” and “I whip it like my n—a Richie Vetter.”

During one of Jake’s YouTube vlogs, a fan (apparently they exist) came up to him to say hi. This fan had a bit of an accent so Jake asked where he was from.The fan said he’s from Kazakhstan to which Jake replied – “It sounds like you’re just going to blow someone up. You’re like ‘send the Nuke.’”[4] NEED I ELABORATE?

Jake also had a lot to say when the Yolanda scandal came out. Still clearly salty about the twitter interaction following the fight. But this just goes to show what he really thinks of Zayn. 

In 2022 Logan Paul was on Andrew Shulz’ Flagrant 2 podcast where they somehow ended up talking about Zayn.[5]hole Yolanda scandal was proved fake in 2021. There was no violence from Zayn’s side and Yolanda had lied. On this podcast, Zayn’s name is first brought up by Andrew Shulz and he says “You know? The guy who beats up Gigi Hadid. No, not beats her. Curses out her mom or something like that.” 

Logan replies saying “No, he hit her mom.” Misinformation Logan. But I doubt you give a shit.

Another podcast guest, AlexxMedia, chimes in with “maybe it’s cultural, I don’t know.” I’m sorry, what? When asked what he means he says he meant ‘British culture’. Right. Of course you did, Alex.  Now if we’ve established he’s British, I wonder why Andrew felt the need to ask ‘where’s he from?’ and Logan to reply ‘he’s ethnic.’ (after which the whole room starts laughing). 

You can argue that you’ve seen them speak up against racism and support BLM and that’s great, I’d like to believe there’s some truth to it, but to be very honest, those seem like calculated moves. Latch on the next hot topic to stay relevant. 

That side note went on longer than I intended but let’s get back to the topic at hand – Piers Morgan. 

So Zayn is ‘snarly brat’ but Yolanda is ‘delightful.’ She’s a liar is what she is, Piers. But thanks for telling everyone where you stand. Not that it’s going to affect Yolanda much but I am very glad that we have solid proof of her being a horrible, manipulative person. 

We all know the reason Zayn doesn’t do tours or live shows much. He’s talked about dealing with anxiety and having panic attacks and how they’ve led to him cancelling performances. For someone dealing with anxiety, I’d assume interviews would also be stressful- being constantly grilled about borderline inappropriate topics because ‘that’s what the people want?’ And if all the One Direction interviews are anything to go by, I’m assuming correctly.

The lovely Mr Piers Morgan also bashed Zayn on cancelling interviews. Now, sure- cancellations are inconvenient. Boo hoo. Those interviews were set for the purpose of promoting Zayn’s music so cancelling them is a loss for him too. He’s not just doing it for fun. He’s not doing it because he doesn’t care about anyone else’s time or money. He’s doing it for his mental health and I applaud him for it.

In a segment with ‘Good Morning Britain’ this is what Piers has to say[6]

“I interviewed them all for a YouTube thing two years ago, before he left the band and he revealed a big tattoo of a gun on his hip… he was just surly the entire time,” No shit, Sherlock. I’d say you grilling him about the gun tattoo had racist undertones but it was actually blatantly racist. He was clearly uncomfortable but he always had a smile on his face so I’d say he handled it pretty well.

Piers continued: “I thought, ‘If you don’t wanna be a popstar, go and do something else. Go and clean drains.’Now he’s being deliberately rude to people pulling out of interviews, being difficult. Get over yourself, mate. You’re a multi-millionaire pop star.”

Everything Zayn does has been used against him time and time again and it all stems from his bad boy image in One Direction. When he was accused of getting violent with Yolanda, a number of articles came out with sources claiming weed has made Zayn ‘aggressive’ and ‘paranoid.’These ‘insider sources’ painted him as someone entirely off the rails, who had anger issues, who would skip out on band practices or interviews to go smoke weed in his room, and even went on to say that his excessive smoking drove a wedge between him and the rest of the band. I happen to know of a Donny lad, surprisingly a part of the same boy band, who also smokes a lot of weed and cigarettes and curses a lot and the middle finger is one of signature signs. I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen any articles talk about how weed has made Louis aggressive and paranoid.

Same with the tattoos. Zayn has so many tattoos, he wears leather jackets, he’s always so quiet and mysterious, he smokes – he’s a bad influence. Three other members of the band have more tattoos than you could count on both hands but hey – that’s self expression. 

Since he left the band we’ve seen Zayn with different hair colours (I’m doing hot pink next, thanks for the inspo Z), different haircuts, he’s grown his facial hair. Basically we’ve seen a more expressive side of Zayn. In an interview with Complex magazine in 2016, Zayn revealed that he wasn’t allowed to keep his beard because it made him look older than the rest of the members. (which, what?). He also wanted to dye his hair but he wasn’t allowed (no reason given for this ridiculous rule). You could give me multiple arguments about why this doesn’t have anything to do with race, religion, colour of skin – but it kind of, sort of, entirely does. Harry was allowed to have long hair, Niall was allowed to colour his hair. So it just seems a bit unfair. (read as ‘racist’)

I was listening to Zayn’s music the other day, as one does, and I remembered Yellow Metal – Cathartic (if you haven’t heard this 25 minute song, go do it now). I just want to point out a couple lyrics: 

See, I’ve been facing the racists from the back when I were a kiddie

Growin’ up in 93’, living in Bradford City

They kicked me out of the schools

Said I had a problem with hittin’ the kids that would call me paki

Still sittin’ in classroom chillin’

I’m angry now that I’m older ’cause I see they treat us different

Got me thinking I’m the problem ’cause they never dealt with these issues

Twenty years later, I’m still in the same boat

Tryna treat me like my grandpa, say I came up off the boat

You know you hate

Never get what you judging

I used to dread growing my beard too long

Never felt I belonged

These next lines are why I’m writing this article. People like to say he doesn’t have it that bad. People like to say he’s privileged because of the way he looks or the fact that he was in a band with 4 white boys as if that shields him from being targeted. There is no excuse or justification for racism. 

“Boy your skin is so light”

Okay motherfucker, take my name up on a flight

And try to convince immigration that your bloodline’s half white

Quick pause – Zayn Malik was detained at an airport 3 hours on his first visit to America because of his name and ethnicity. This was during the first American tour when he was only 17. He had to go through three security checks which they claimed he had been randomly selected for but then later it was revealed that his name had been flagged.

“When I landed, it was like a movie,” said Malik. “They kept me there for three hours, questioning me about all kinds of crazy stuff.

“I was 17, my first time in America, jet-lagged off the plane, confused. The same thing happened the next time too.”[7]

 Back to some more lyrics

Now I look upon the industry, I see it infested

Looking like kids who would grab up a Nesquik

My name ain’t on the list unless they label it “ethnic”

He talks about politics

Say whatever for the vote, and then just chose another route

Say they’d never kill another, unless that brother’s skin is brown

And till they stop killing coloureds

It’s fuck the feds

I’m going to stop there and hope it’s enough for you to give the song a listen.

I’ve lost count of how many situations I’ve covered in this article. I could still talk about the allegations that Zayn left One Direction to join ISIS, that his name has been associated with the terrorist organisation multiple times by multiple reporters, “as a joke.” I could talk about how he got death threats for showing his support for Palestine, but if you’ve made it to this point and are still trying to justify what he went through as anything other than racism, then me rambling on would just be a waste of my time and yours. 

I find some comfort in the fact that Zayn had Liam, Louis, Niall, and Harry with him. They were a family in every sense of the word and seeing their tweets about celebrating Eid, or watching that one video of Zayn and Louis wearing a sherwani and dancing to Bollywood music, or the boys celebrating Holi – it warms my heart. I love One Direction as a band and all the boys individually with my entire heart. I don’t enjoy talking about everything they’ve been forced to deal with but people need to know because that is the only way there will be any change in the world. If you take away anything from this article – even if it’s just the conscious knowledge of outright racism in the music industry, in the world, and towards Zayn – I’ll consider it a step in the right direction. I sincerely hope that the next time you speak to, or about anyone who has a different religion, race, skin colour, or culture to your own- that you’ll take a moment to check your thoughts and make a conscious effort to avoid ignorant or even racist-adjacent comments.

Articles mentioned

[1] http://www.debbieschlussel.com/50331/mega-pop-star-pimping-islam-on-your-daughters/

[2] https://youtu.be/1yrHV5NBhc8

[3] https://youtu.be/tcpQEGYzhno

[4] https://youtu.be/4r2iqYwvnzA

[5] https://youtu.be/cP8GOxzGhAY

[6] https://cdn.jwplayer.com/previews/jvREKaQE


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