Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Young Arab Americans Talk About the Real Problems

Young Arab Americans Talk About the Real Problems

While Sept. 11 gave long time prejudices a power that was unprecedented, it is important that we not forget that Muslims and Arabs were already struggling with racism.

Those of us who are not white Americans know what it is to have ourselves defined by a popular imagination that does not ask for our approval. For Muslims and Middle Easterners in the U.S., Sept. 11 meant an onslaught of external definition by politicians, the media, academics, and even our neighbors and friends. I was a high school junior in Manhattan when Sept. 11 happened. The candlelight vigils I attended continually at Union Square, while healing, kept me distracted from what was happening to so many Muslims and Arabs around me. Meanwhile, I brushed off as trivial the ignorant questions about Islam (to which I had no answers—my Iranian American family is devoutly agnostic), the terrorist jokes told in jest and the apparent need by white friends to analyze my appropriate racial category as though I were a jigsaw puzzle. It was tiring at best, and infuriating at worst. In his new book, How Does it Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, Moustafa Bayoumi, an English professor at Brooklyn College, introduces readers to seven young people in Brooklyn who are all too familiar with being defined by others.

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