Why do Arabs and Arab Americans feel white in the United States does not reflect their reality 2022-04-28 12:10:57


“You ask 10 different people what it means to be Arab, and you get 10 different answers.”

This is how 31-year-old Danny Hajjar, a Lebanese-American living in Boston, describes the diversity and richness of Arab and Arab-American identities.

“People from Lebanon, for example, have a different idea of ​​what it means to be an Arab compared to people from Morocco,” he told CNN.

But with this complexity can come frustration, especially in a country like the United States. Because of slavery and the racial class system it created, American society tends to view race and ethnicity through the limited categories of black and white.

Hajjar said, “I always mark the word ‘other’ and then write in Middle Eastern, Lebanese or Arabic.” “I vividly remember, when I was applying to high school – I went to a private high school – I marked ‘other’ and the admissions person asked me what I was, and when I told them, they changed it to White. I still can’t believe that happened. That was really something” .

To put it a little differently, while identity processing in the United States is strong and strict in some ways, it is poor in others. And there are consequences.

“Our society is uniquely disadvantaged because we have not been given the ability to accurately communicate our identity in census and other survey data, which means that the social and economic challenges of our first-generation communities and immigrants, as well as the wide range of environmental diseases associated with our ethnic populations,” said Noorulhoda Sami, 20. not documented.

Originally from Iraq, Sami and her family moved to Dearborn, Michigan – a densely populated US city – in 2010.

“There are many ramifications to this (lack of data and visibility) in Dearborn, I note that I grew up in Dearborn, most notably at the southern end of Dearborn – racism, class, capitalism and severe respiratory disease among refugees and Yemeni residents,” Sami added.

As the United States celebrates Arab American Heritage Month, it is important to acknowledge the community’s long history, which extends back to end of the nineteenth centuryWhen Arabs began immigrating to the United States to escape conflict, persecution, and other hardships.

How are they made invisible?

Arab Americans can trace their ancestry to 22 Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa. But in records like the census and even on medical papers, American society tends to see this dimension of diversity with one nuance – when it sees it at all.
Based on the criteria defined by the Office of Management and Budget, there are seven categories of data regarding race and ethnicity: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, African American or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White, or Hispanics, or Latinos, and not of Hispanic or Latino descent, According to the memorandum of the census program 2020.

As a result, Arab Americans must choose “white” or “other” in the census and similar data products.

It should be noted that the Census Bureau only recognizes seven of the 22 Arabic-speaking countries: Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Morocco and Jordan in the ancestral survey. People who write in “Arabic” or “Arabic” are included under the “Arabic” subcategory, and those who write in one of the other countries are counted as “other Arabs”. The Statistical Office also classifies people who write in the Kurdish and Berber languages ​​as “other Arabs.” Although the Kurds and Berbers hail from the Middle East and North Africa, they are ethnic minorities and do not identify as Arabs.

“We are the invisible minority. We are treated as a minority on all sides, but are identified as white. Whites are not a minority in this country,” Samer Khalaf, national president of the Anti-Arab American-Discrimination Committee, a grassroots organization, told Network CNN.

“Because we’re not counted, and because we’re invisible, we don’t get the culturally and linguistically competent help that many other communities get, whether it’s mental health resources or information about Covid-19,” he added. “We don’t get these resources because we’re white and fall into the general white community that doesn’t get help based on needs.”

This invisibility, this lack of an identifier or a more precise category, can both have a psychological effect.

Consider 23-year-old Aya Al-Mufti, who was born in Iraq just before the US invasion. She said that she grew up in a predominantly white community in Detroit in the post-9/11 era, and encountered anti-Arab racism everywhere, particularly in comments about her background and her faith.

Such experiences are structured and Many young Arab Americans think about race and identity.

“For many of us, being counted as a white person does not reflect our daily experiences,” the Mufti said. “We know we are not invisible to the government. They see us clearly. We wouldn’t be the targets of discriminatory counterterrorism programs if they didn’t.”

She added that the whitewashing of Arab Americans appears to be an abstraction of culture, “a violent act to erase our existence and diminish our collective identity and power.”

Crucially, vision isn’t always an uncomplicated commodity. Sometimes, it can be accompanied by severe weakness.

“Some people think that identifying themselves (as Arab Americans) can put a target on their back, so we have to think about it from that aspect as well,” Al-Mufti said.

However, there are plenty of benefits to securing greater visibility for the census and elsewhere.

“The identifier is important for every reason we can think of,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “It matters for the trillion-dollar federal budget, for voter registration votes, and for ESL classes. I can’t think of a way that data and information doesn’t impact everyday life. Invisible data, it hurts society.”

What is geography?

The Arab population of the United States is north of 2 million, According to the 2020 grandparents survey. But advocacy groups say there are far fewer in the community due to the lack of a more realistic identifier.

Most Arabs in the United States live in and out of the major cities on the coasts and in the Midwest. Wayne County (which includes Detroit) in Michigan, Cook County (which includes Chicago) in Illinois, Los Angeles County in California and Kings County in New York have the largest Arab populations in the country, according to the survey.

Even with the communities on the coasts and in the Midwest, it is clear that the distribution of the Arab population across the country is as wide as the nearly two dozen countries to which members of the community can trace their roots.

How did they push American society forward?

Arab Americans have always been essential components of the national fabric.

On April 1 President Joe Biden celebrated April as Arab American Heritage Month He expressed gratitude to the community for “representing the best of who we are”.
“The history and story of the Arab American community are deeply woven into the diverse fabric of America,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “This National Arab American Heritage Month, I thank the community for all they’ve done to help move us forward.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken I delivered a similar message that day.

“Immigrants of Arab descent have been arriving in the United States since before our country’s independence and have contributed to our country’s progress in science, business, technology, foreign policy and national security,” Blinken said. “The prayer is long and includes Private Nathan Baden, a Syrian immigrant who fought and gave his life during the American Revolution.”

The contributions of Arab Americans extend far beyond the realms of foreign policy and national security.

It immediately comes to mind, said Mahmoud El-Hamalawy, a member of the American Space Agency’s Foreign Relations and Arab-American Agencies Group at NASA Farouk El-Baz, who led the agency’s study of lunar geology prior to the Apollo 11 landing. State Department Coordinator, for CNN.

“The successes of the Lebanese-American designer Reem Acra, the late Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran, and the Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek reinforce those contributions by demonstrating to the world that America is still a land of potential and opportunity for all immigrants.” Hamlawi added.

Of course, this does not mean that there is anything close to adequate representation in all aspects of American life. In the US Congress, for example, the number of Arab Americans is still negligible.

Arab American Heritage Month is not officially honored by the entire federal government. But it is not hard to see why it is important to gain wider recognition.

“For us to claim our place in American society, as so many have done, it is important to be recognized by the government,” said Khalaf, the national chair of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “We have contributed so much to this country and its success. We cannot erase or mitigate that.”