The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Arab American after Obama: Recognition, acceptance not a reality for all Americans

While tensions between the United States and the Arab world have lessened after Obama, the hurt, the war and the anger are still there. As an Arab American, I have often been perceived as the enemy within. While I hesitate to emphasize this state in fear of further profiling myself, the truth is that this position yields specific hardships that are experienced by Arabs (and Muslims), alike.Not having a category for Arab Americans, specifically in the U.S. census, has caused tremendous issues in undercounting and has brought to light conflicts regarding self-identification.

As an Arab American, I am either supposed to check the “white” box or, if I choose to, the “other” box. For reasons that are often debated, Non-African Arabs in the United States are officially considered Caucasians. Some anthropologists argue that this is a way for the west to claim Jesus, while others argue that based on their bone structure and ancient heritage, Arabs are technically “white.”

I have chosen “white,” and I have chosen “other,” but more than once, I have chosen “Asian” to address the fact that “Asian” has been reduced to countries in the Far East region of the continent. But now I choose “other” for lack of a better option.

The census is designed to comply with a culture that makes meaning through definitions and comparisons.

Some of us work to fit into our box, and others of us rebel to ensure that we don’t fit in. And then there are those of us who wonder why we don’t have a box, and whether this is freeing or oppressive.

On the one hand, there is a “Caucasian” middle-class girl living in the suburbs of Maryland, who hides her accent and straightens her curly hair and gets highlights.

And then there is the Arab American girl at an all-“white” school, who tans regularly, dyes her light hair dark brown, wears black eyeliner and refuses to listen to American pop to make a political statement.

And then there is me, today, not sure whether or not I should be ashamed that I lost my accent. Being mistaken for a tourist when I visit Palestine makes me wonder if I have become too Americanized, or whether my right to identify as a Palestinian without sarcastic responses has been robbed of me by a culture who sees itself in the eyes of the west.

I am not allowed to exist in the space between the boxes – Arab and American.

I cannot refute American politics because of my identity as a Quaker, or as a human rights activist because my identity as an Arab trumps everything else. It is therefore assumed that I am against the Iraq war because I support terrorism.

And as you walk through the airport and zoom past security, I am standing behind you, waiting for my brother to go through a “random search” and watching his face turn red with humiliation; as you sing the national anthem in memorial of the troops who fell in Iraq, I am wondering if anyone is singing for Iraqis and Palestinians as well; as you solemnly stand in front of the TV to watch the coverage of the “war in the Middle East,” I am mourning everything that was not aired; and as you walk away, my experiences lie in the spaces between your footsteps.

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