The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
Today the U.S. and the rest of the world commemorates the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many media outlets, think tanks and research institutions, organizations, and individual commentators have offered their own analyses of what transpired on that day 10 years ago and what has happened since. Like those of many Americans, my reflections are complex and even contradictory.
On the one hand, I still mourn those who suffered on that eventful day, in the years since, and continue to suffer today. I also applaud the ways in which, at least for a while, we came together as Americans, united by our fierce loyalty to fundamental principles upon which this country was founded. On the other hand, I also feel that we as Americans have given given into fear too much and that has allowed many of our institutions to inflict needless hostility against innocent people inside the U.S. and around the world.
To hopefully serve as a teaching and learning resource about the issues related to this 10th anniversary, I humbly offer the following retrospective of posts related to 9/11, the war on terrorism, and the treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans (or those perceived to be by the rest of society) since Sept. 11, 2001 (in chronological order).
2009: Gary Locke and the Future of Asian American Identity As Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke prepares to become the U.S’s new Ambassador to China, I look at how he represents the forging of a new identity for Asian Americans as they contribute to strengthening American society in the 21st century.
As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.
Recently, a reader emailed me to ask why Arab, Muslim, and other ethnic and cultural groups from western Asia are not included within the “Asian American” category. I replied that from a sociological point of view, collective group identities such as “Asian American” are based on more than just geography — there are also political, economic, cultural, and religious similarities and differences.
That is why the consensus of scholars generally separate out “Asian Americans” and “Arab and Muslim Americans” as distinct group identities. Nonetheless, I also noted that both Asian Americans and Arab & Muslim Americans share many things in common and in fact, I have written several articles and blog posts on this site on the connections between the two groups.
Below are some recent and notable books that highlight the recent histories and contemporary experiences of Arab and Muslim Americans even more:
This book is the most powerful approach imaginable: it is the story of the last forty-plus years of American history, told through the eyes of Arab Americans. Each chapter describes an event in U.S. history — which may already be familiar to us — and invites us to live that moment in time in the skin of one Arab American. The chapters follow a timeline from 1963 to the present, and the characters live in every corner of this country.
We meet fellow Americans of all creeds and colors, among them the Alabama football player who navigates the stringent racial mores of segregated Birmingham, where a church bombing wakes a nation to the need to make America a truly more equal place; the young wife from Ramallah — now living in Baltimore — who had to abandon her beautiful homeand is now asked by a well-meaning American, “How do you like living in an apartment after living in a tent?”; the Detroit toughs and the potsmoking suburban teenagers, who in different decades become politicized and serious about their heritage despite their own wills; the homosexual man afraid to be gay in the Arab world and afraid to be Arab in America; the two formidable women who wind up working for opposing campaigns in the 2000 presidential election; the Marine fighting in Iraq who meets villagers who ask him, “What are you, an Arab, doing here?”
We glimpse how America sees Arabs as much as how Arabs see America. We revisit the 1973 oil embargo that initiated the American perception of all Arabs as oil-rich sheikhs; the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that heralded the arrival of Middle Eastern Islam in the American consciousness; bombings across three decades in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and New York City that bring terrorism to American soil; and both wars in Iraq that have posed Arabs as the enemies of America.
Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America’s new “problem”-Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Bayoumi takes readers into the lives of seven twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States.
He moves beyond stereotypes and clichés to reveal their often unseen struggles, from being subjected to government surveillance to the indignities of workplace discrimination. Through it all, these young men and women persevere through triumphs and setbacks as they help weave the tapestry of a new society that is, at its heart, purely American.
Four out of ten Americans say they dislike Muslims, according to a Gallup poll. “Muslims,” a blogger wrote on the Web site Free Republic, “don’t belong in America.” In a lively, funny, and revealing riposte to these sentiments, journalist Jonathan Curiel offers a fascinating tour through the little-known Islamic past, and present, of American culture.
From highbrow to pop, from lighthearted to profound, Al’ America reveals the Islamic and Arab influences before our eyes, under our noses, and ringing in our ears. Curiel demonstrates that many of America’s most celebrated places—including the Alamo in San Antonio, the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina—retain vestiges of Arab and Islamic culture.
Likewise, some of America’s most recognizable music—the Delta Blues, the surf sounds of Dick Dale, the rock and psychedelia of Jim Morrison and the Doors—is indebted to Arab music. And some of America’s leading historical figures, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Elvis Presley, relied on Arab or Muslim culture for intellectual sustenance.
Part travelogue, part cultural history, Al’ America confirms a continuous pattern of give-and-take between America and the Arab-Muslim world. The rich and surprising tapestry of Arab and Islamic influence on America includes:
Architecture: from the World Trade Center to the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina
Music: from the blues to surf music and the Doors
Philosophy and poetry: from the Transcendentalists and Henry James to Khalil Gibran and Rumi
The food we eat: from ice cream cone to coffee
Pop culture: from P.T. Barnum to the Shriners and Star Wars
Bringing the rich terrain of Arab American histories to bear on conceptualizations of race in the U.S., this groundbreaking volume fills a critical gap in the field of ethnic studies. Unlike most immigrant communities who either have been consistently marked as “non-white,” or have made a transition from “non-white” to “white,” Arab Americans historically have been rendered “white” and have increasingly come to be seen as “non-white.”
This book highlights emergent discourses on the distinct ways that race matters to the study of Arab American histories and asks essential questions. What is the relationship between U.S. imperialism in Arab homelands and anti-Arab racism in the lives of Arab Americans? What are the relationships between religion, class, gender, and anti-Arab racism? What is the significance of whiteness studies to Arab American studies?
Transcending multiculturalist discourses after September 11 that have simply “added on” the category “Arab American” to the landscape of U.S. ethnic and racial studies, this volume locates September 11 as a turning point, rather than a beginning, in the history of Arab American engagements with race, multiculturalism, and Americanization.
Next month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and inevitably, many people wonder exactly who or which ethnic groups are included in the category of “Asian Pacific American.” Specifically, several have asked me whether Arab and Middle Eastern Americans should be included. This is a complicated question to be sure and the short answer is technically (i.e., from the Census Bureau and federal government’s definition), they are considered White, not Asian.
However, as the Los Angeles Times reports, several in the Arab and Middle Eastern American community don’t consider themselves White (and certainly aren’t always treated as if they’re White) nor Asian. Instead, they are tying to create a new racial definition that more accurately represents their history, characteristics, and experiences:
Nicole Salame, 19, was filling out an application to UCLA last year when she got to the question about race and ethnicity. She thought a mistake had been made. . . . Her Lebanese-born mother told her Arabs are considered white, but Salame didn’t believe her. Her high school counselor told her the same thing. . . . For years the federal government has classified Arab Americans and Middle Easterners as white. But confusion and disagreement have led some students to check “Asian” or “African,” depending on what part of the Middle East they came from. Some, like Salame, simply marked “Other.”
Now several UCLA student groups — including Arabs, Iranians, Afghanis and Armenians — have launched a campaign to add a Middle Eastern category, with various subgroups, to the University of California admissions application. They hope to emulate the Asian Pacific Coalition’s “Count Me In” campaign, which a few years ago successfully lobbied for the inclusion of 23 ethnic categories on the UC application, including Hmong, Pakistani, Native Hawaiian and Samoan.
The UCLA students said having their own ethnic designation goes beyond self-identity and has real implications for the larger Arab and Middle Eastern communities.
The article points out that in past decades, those of Arab and Middle Eastern descent fought to be legally and officially designated as White, which was formalized by the Census in 1970. However, in the context of recent demographic, political, and cultural trends, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans now are more inclined to identify as a separate racial/ethnic group, one that better reflects the uniqueness of their community:
UCLA junior Shawn Gabrill said he has more in common with other children of immigrants than with those whose parents were born in this country.
“I feel like when I put down ‘white’ on an application, they assume my parents finished high school, went to college and that English was my first language,” the 20-year-old English major said. “And none of these things describe me.”
Gabrill, the son of Jordanian and Egyptian parents, said he had difficulties with the college application but, because he was seen as white, he wasn’t identified as someone who needed extra help from high school counselors.
“So it’s kind of like we’re in between. We’re not white, but we’re not as disadvantaged as the other groups so we don’t get any of that aid,” he said. “So we’re kind of invisible in that way.”
Of course, the usual criticism from more “traditional” Americans is that such an effort to create a new racial category will only divide our country further and would make it harder to unite everyone under a universal “American” identity. The problem with that argument is that first, based on our country’s history and still embedded in most of our social institutions, a universal “American” identity has usually meant being White. Therefore, in denying Arab and Middle Eastern Americans their own identity amounts to another misguided “colorblind” approach that ignores the historical legacies and contemporary realities of American racial history.
The second problem with this colorblind argument is that it flies in the face of real and significant demographic changes taking place all around us, and the political and cultural shifts that result from such changes. As I’ve consistently written about, being “American” in the 21st century is more than just a sense of patriotic loyalty. That’s part of it, but it also includes making real contributions to America’s political, economic, and cultural future in the face of globalization, financial crises, and the changing political landscape around the world.
With that in mind, just like Asian Americans, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans are poised to use their transnational cultural ties to bridge the gaps that currently divide the U.S. from other religions and countries. If the U.S. is to retain its “superpower” status and level of influence around the world, trying to impose American ideals and models of government or economy will not work any longer and in fact, will only hasten our country’s decline.
Instead, as the Obama administration has recognized, we need to embrace these global trends and build more mutually-respectful connections, relationships, and networks with countries and religions around the world, particular in Asia and the Middle East. Although it’s too late to be officially implemented in the 2010 census, one step in that process is to support the efforts of Arab and Middle Eastern Americans to create their own racial category that reflects their unique history, experiences, and resources that they can contribute in helping us forge a new American identity here in the U.S. and around the world.