Pointing Out Dr. Oz’s New Jersey Roots Isn’t Xenophobic, but Republican Response to Him Has Been
Saying someone's from New Jersey (in this and mosts contexts) isn't racist.
I feel like I need to start by saying I absolutely despise Dr. Mehmet Oz. Not only is he a snake oil salesman who has tricked my family and (indirectly) me into buying various supplements to manage weight, but since the pandemic began, he’s gotten worse by promoting vaccine disinformation and swiftly becoming a reality TV star promoting fascism. However, people being racist or xenophobic towards him is totally out of line. A recent comment made by political science expert Brendan Nyhan online misattributed memes about Oz not being a Pennsylvania-native as he’s competing to represent the state in the Senate, is not that, though.
A big part of Oz’s campaign since winning the Republican primary in his election is showing people how much of a macho, “not elite” man he is, as well as establishing himself as a Pennsylvanian everyman that he isn’t. On the flip, John Fetterman (his Democrat opponent) has been doing the opposite, from highlighting that Oz is a longtime New Jersey resident (where he still owns a home) by getting famed New Jerseyan Snooki to record a cameo saying “We miss you!” to trying to get Oz in the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Fetterman’s strategy doesn’t say “He’s not a real American because he’s Turkish and a Muslim,” or even the safer but the equally problematic implication that Oz wouldn’t be a real Pennsylvanian because he’s from a big city like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.
Instead, Fetterman stays very regional and repeatedly shows (hilariously, with the aide of Oz) that Oz is not from those specific parts. It’s about a lack of honesty which is one of Oz’s biggest flaws and greatest skills. I’m not going to pretend I understand the rivalry between states because, for better and for worse, Texas is very unique. (I do understand Houston vs. Dallas, though.) Oz spent time in Pennsylvania during grad school, and two of his kids are born in the state, but for most of his life (including the last decade before filling out the paperwork to run in PA), Oz has lived in New Jersey and New York.
The racism Oz HAS faced this election
Most of the bigotry faced by Oz comes from his own party and was in full force during the primaries. Early in the primaries, the person who was closest to beating him, David McCormick, not-so-slyly ditched the “Dr.” part and called Oz “Mehmet Oz” in a video about being a “true American patriot.” This is in addition to sharing images of Oz around people with turbans, as if that proves something bad. According to the New York Times, these people were imams, and Oz was at his father’s funeral in Turkey. As recently as 2022, Oz identified as a secular Muslim.
After former President Donald Trump endorsed Oz in the GOP primary, more of Oz’s opponents attacked him for his dual citizenship with Turkey. In addition, those across the aisle like Ilhan Omar, a handful of high-profile Republicans (mostly outside of the state), and fellow Turkish American liberals like Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks) defended Oz and called out xenophobic thrown at Oz. Some compared it to anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic sentiment (something Trump does). While it’s more complicated than that, this was clearly meant to “other” an opponent, so it’s clearly bigotry. It’s legal to serve in Congress with dual citizenship, though they might be barred from certain security clearance and, thus, some committees.
There’s never a reason to revert to an othering, ‘ism, or phobia, and there are so many issues with Oz regarding their moral character and policy. Everyone has a person in the public (like a politician or celebrity) and in private who challenges this, but you have to resist. When you attack someone for weight, ability, gender, race, etc., because “they’re a bad person,” you are telling yourself that someone’s humanity is contingent on how much you agree on. We can all do better in this, but saying Oz is from New Jersey is not included, even if some feel like a rival state is a foreign country.
(featured image: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
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