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).
The recent mass murder tragedy in Norway has once again focused attention on ongoing sociological issues related to Islam in general and Muslim Americans in particular. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the debate and controversy surrounding the present and future dynamics of Muslim-west relations will only intensify. With this in mind, the following news articles and recently-released books shed more light on these important issues facing not just Muslim Americans, but all of U.S. society and indeed, the entire world.
Difference Between a Christian and Muslim Terrorist
This graphic (I found it on Digg.com but am not sure who the creator of it is) caught my attention and I think makes a powerful statement about how criticism of religious extremism seems to differ according to which religion is implicated:
As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, new data from the Pew Research Group shows that unfortunately, tensions and suspicions still exist between the west and Muslim populations.
Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other. . . . However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the U.S. and Europe compared with five years ago. A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006.
In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavorable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West. However, while Americans and Europeans tend to blame Muslims for bad relations, significant numbers believe Westerners are responsible.
A suspected hate crime in Sacramento CA tragically highlights the inability (or refusal) of some Americans to distinguish between Asian ethnic and religious groups and instead, blindly acting on racist stereotypes to attack innocent Americans.
The traditional [Sikh] headwear might have singled them out late last week when they were gunned down, one fatally, in what police are investigating as a suspected hate crime. On Monday, local religious leaders pleaded for the community to come forward with leads but also said they will not be deterred by violence.
“Our community will continue to wear our turbans proudly,” said Navi Kaur, the granddaughter of Surinder Singh, 65, who died from his wounds. His friend, 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal, remains in critical condition. They were walking through their neighborhood in Elk Grove, just south of the California state capital Sacramento, Friday afternoon when someone in what witnesses described as a pickup truck opened fire.
Monday also marked the start of a trial involving a confirmed hate crime against a Sikh. . . . [Amar Shergill] is the attorney for a Sikh cab driver beaten four months ago by passengers who shouted anti-Islamic slurs at him in West Sacramento, which sits across the Sacramento River from the state capital. The two defendants pleaded no contest Monday to felony assault.
As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, several people at Monday’s news conference drew links between the Sacramento-area crimes and national and international developments. From unrest in North Africa to congressional hearings on radicalization of Muslims in the U.S., speakers warned of an increasingly hostile climate.
Student enrollment in Arabic, Korean and Chinese classes is showing the fastest growth among foreign language courses at U.S. colleges, even though Spanish remains the most popular by a huge margin, a new study shows.
The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities by the Modern Language Assn., or MLA, found that enrollment in Arabic surged by 46% between 2006 and 2009. More U.S. college students are studying Arabic than Russian, a change that officials say reflects a shift of interest from Cold War concerns to current issues involving the Middle East and terrorism.
Last year’s controversy about the location of a Muslim center near Ground Zero has many American Muslims exasperated about if and when they will ever be fully accepted into mainstream U.S. society.
For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.
Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. . . . Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls [says], “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”
As the nation tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community.
Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking book, Behind the Backlash presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis.
Behind the Backlash seeks to explain why blame and scapegoating occur after a catastrophe. Peek sets the twenty-first century experience of Muslim Americans, who were vilified and victimized, in the context of larger sociological and psychological processes. Peek’s book will be of interest to those in disaster research studies, sociology of religion, and race and ethnic relations.
In Muslims in Motion, Nazli Kibria provides a comparative look at Bangladeshi Muslims in different global contexts-including Britain, the U.S., the Middle East, and Malaysia. Kibria examines international migrant flows from Bangladesh, and considers how such migrations continue to shape Islamization in these areas. Having conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews, she explores how, in societies as different as these, migrant Muslims, in their everyday lives, strive to achieve economic gains, sustain community and family life, and realize a sense of dignity and honor.
Muslims in Motion offers fresh insights into the prominence of Islam in these communities, especially an Islam defined by fundamentalist movements and ideologies. Kibria also focuses on the complex significance of nationality-with rich analyses of the diaspora, the role of gender and class, and the multiple identities of the migrants, she shows how nationality can be both a critical source of support and also of difficulty for many in their efforts to attain lives of dignity. By bringing to life a vast range of experiences, this book challenges prevailing stereotypes of Muslims.
Can Muslims ever fully be citizens of the West? Can the values of Islam ever be brought into accord with the individual freedoms central to the civic identity of Western nations? Not if you believe what you see on TV. Whether the bearded fanatic, the veiled, oppressed female, or the shadowy terrorist plotting our destruction, crude stereotypes permeate public representations of Muslims in the United States and western Europe. But these “Muslims” are caricatures—distorted abstractions, wrought in the most garish colors, that serve to reduce the diversity and complexity of the Muslim world to a set of fixed objects suitable for sound bites and not much else.
In Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin dissect the ways in which stereotypes depicting Muslims as an inherently problematic presence in the West are constructed, deployed, and circulated in the public imagination, producing an immense gulf between representation and a considerably more complex reality. Crucially, they show that these stereotypes are not solely the province of crude-minded demagogues and their tabloid megaphones, but multiply as well from the lips of supposedly progressive elites, even those who presume to speak “from within,” on Muslims’ behalf.
Based on nuanced analyses of cultural representations in both the United States and the UK, the authors draw our attention to a circulation of stereotypes about Muslims that sometimes globalizes local biases and, at other times, brings national differences into sharper relief.
This book seeks to tell the life stories of the innocent men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the “war on terror.” As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, this collection of narratives gives voice to the people who have had their human rights violated here in the U.S. by post-9/11 policies and actions.
Among the narrators:
Young men of Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, who were arrested and detained or singled out for voluntary interviews because of their national origin or religion. Scholars who have been blacklisted or subjected to interrogation for their research or writings on Islam and related topics. Muslim women who have suffered from job discrimination, harassment, and assault for wearing a veil or similar head covering.
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After this post was published, I came across a few more noteworthy articles on Islam and Muslim Americans:
Muslim Americans are now more optimistic about their lives than any other major American faith group as their economic well-being improves and they feel more politically enfranchised. A Gallup study released on Tuesday found 60 percent of Muslim Americans surveyed reported they were “thriving”, slightly higher than for Americans of any other religion except for Jews, who edged them out of the top spot by one percentage point.
Pollsters noted in particular the rapid surge in positive sentiment among Muslim Americans. The percentage of Muslims who were “thriving” grew by 19 points since 2008, double that of any other major faith group. . . .
Authors of the study said they attributed the change in outlook to improved economic conditions and a sense of more political enfranchisement since the election of President Barack Obama, a Christian with Muslim family roots who has reached out to Muslim communities worldwide. The report said Obama’s approval rating among Muslim Americans was 80 percent, and that 46 percent, or a plurality, of Muslim Americans identified as Democrats, compared to only 9 percent who identified as Republicans.
[I]mprovements in Muslim sentiment came despite continuing controversies. Those included a controversy surrounding a plan to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque near the site of New York’s September 11 al-Qaida attack, and hearings on Islamic extremism called by U.S. Representative Peter King, which critics viewed as a witch-hunt.
The same Gallup Organization study mentioned in the above article also notes that among major U.S. religious groups, Muslim Americans are the most likely to oppose individual or military violence against civilians. This particular report would be a very useful resource to contradict ongoing stereotypes that Muslims are more prone to support violence than other religious groups.
Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified. . . . Respondents from other faith groups, particularly Mormon Americans, are more likely to say military attacks are sometimes justified than never justified.
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.
Below are a few more recently-released books that highlight Asian Americans, immigration, and/or other racial/ethnic groups along a variety of historical and contemporary sociological issues. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
South Asia occupies a very interesting position in the field of Asian Studies and Asian American Studies — countries and cultures such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh share many similarities with those in East Asia and Southeast Asia but at the same time, such South Asian countries and cultures feature very unique histories and characteristics. South Asians here in the U.S. frequently disagree among themselves about whether they should be part of the larger “Asian American” category as well. To help us examine these intricacies in more detail, the follow books focus on the histories, experiences, and identities of people from South Asia.
Through a lyrical narrative of her journey to Tibet in 2007, activist Canyon Sam contemplates modern history from the perspective of Tibetan women. Traveling on China’s new “Sky Train,” she celebrates Tibetan New Year with the Lhasa family whom she’d befriended decades earlier and concludes an oral-history project with women elders.
As she uncovers stories of Tibetan women’s courage, resourcefulness, and spiritual strength in the face of loss and hardship since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950, and observes the changes wrought by the controversial new rail line in the futuristic “new Lhasa,” Sam comes to embrace her own capacity for letting go, for faith, and for acceptance. Her glimpse of Tibet’s past through the lens of the women – a visionary educator, a freedom fighter, a gulag survivor, and a child bride – affords her a unique perspective on the state of Tibetan culture today – in Tibet, in exile, and in the widening Tibetan diaspora.
Gracefully connecting the women’s poignant histories to larger cultural, political, and spiritual themes, the author comes full circle, finding wisdom and wholeness even as she acknowledges Tibet’s irreversible changes.
Providing a useful analysis of and framework for understanding immigration and assimilation narratives, anupama jain’s How to Be South Asian in America considers the myth of the American Dream in fiction (Meena Alexander’s Manhattan Music), film (American Desi, American Chai), and personal testimonies. By interrogating familiar American stories in the context of more supposedly exotic narratives, jain illuminates complexities of belonging that also reveal South Asians’ anxieties about belonging, (trans)nationalism, and processes of cultural interpenetration. jain argues that these stories transform as well as reflect cultural processes, and she shows just how aspects of identity, gender, sexual, class, ethnic, and nationality are shaped by South Asians’ accommodation of and resistance to mainstream American culture.
Mohanty has assembled an innovative volume of essays situated at the intersection of at least three multi-disciplinary fields: postcolonial and subaltern theory; comparative literary analysis, especially with a South Asian and transnational focus; and the study of “alternative” and “indigenous” modernities. This definitive new work grounds the political insights of postcolonial and subaltern theory in close textual analysis and challenges readers to think in new ways about global modernity and local cultures.
Terrifying Muslims highlights how transnational working classes from Pakistan are produced, constructed, and represented in the context of American empire and the recent global War on Terror. Drawing on ethnographic research that compares Pakistan, the Middle East, and the United States before and after 9/11, Junaid Rana combines cultural and material analyses to chronicle the worldviews of Pakistani labor migrants as they become part of a larger global racial system.
At the same time, he explains how these migrants’ mobility and opportunities are limited by colonial, postcolonial, and new imperial structures of control and domination. He argues that the contemporary South Asian labor diaspora builds on and replicates the global racial system consolidated during the period of colonial indenture. Rana maintains that a negative moral judgment attaches to migrants who enter the global labor pool through the informal economy. This taint of the illicit intensifies the post–9/11 Islamophobia that collapses varied religions, nationalities, and ethnicities into the threatening racial figure of “the Muslim.”
It is in this context that the racialized Muslim is controlled by a process that beckons workers to enter the global economy, and stipulates when, where, and how laborers can migrate. The demonization of Muslim migrants in times of crisis, such as the War on Terror, is then used to justify arbitrary policing, deportation, and criminalization.
Following up on my earlier post entitled “White Backlash: Yes, It’s Real,” I will use this post to maintain a continually updated list of news stories that highlight and exemplify various examples of this kind of direct and indirect anti-minority, anti-‘foreigner,’ and pro-‘traditional American’ mentality and behavior that is increasingly on display throughout American society. The list in in reverse chronological order (most recent stories first). Also, feel free to mention any other examples I missed in the comments section at the bottom.
Secret Service to Probe Bullet-Ridden Picture of Obama (Jan. 2012) A photograph showing a group of men with guns posing with a bullet-riddled T-shirt containing an image of Barack Obama’s face is to be investigated by the Secret Service. The picture originally appeared on the Facebook page of an Arizona (surprise!) police officer.
Arizona Teenage Girls Post Racist YouTube Denigrating Immigrants (Jan. 2012) A group of Arizona girls post a video on YouTube about “Mexican immigration” and the “new Arizona law that just passed the legislator (sic).” The video was pulled from YouTube and the creators deleted their YouTube account shortly after their inboxes and social media accounts were flooded with video responses and hate mail.
Blond UCLA Student Majoring in White Privilege (March 2011) Clueless UCLA student Alexandra Wallace thinks it’s cool to post a video on YouTube where she mocks and stereotypes Asians (yes, the tired, old ‘ching chong’ routine) and makes light of the catastrophe in Japan. [Insert blond joke here].
British Prime Minister Calls Multiculturalism a Failure (February 2011) Cameron stereotypes and indicts entire religious, ethnic, and cultural groups by arguing that “hands-off tolerance” in Britain and other European nations has encouraged Muslims and other immigrant groups “to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.”
Ohio Mom Sent to Jail for Sending Kids to Suburban School (January 2011) A single African American mother tries give her kids a better life by sending them to a predominantly White school, only to be arrested, convicted of “tampering with school records,” and sentenced to 10 days in jail.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Multiculturalism has ‘Utterly Failed’ (October 2010) Germany’s leader declares that attempts at building a multicultural society has “utterly failed” and that, basically it is entirely the responsibility of non-Germans (i.e., non-Whites) to integrate into the German mainstream. Didn’t we hear a similar message from another high-profile German Chancellor back in the 1930s?
Islamophobia Reaches a Fever Pitch (August 2010) Racist and xenophobic opposition to a mosque near Ground Zero and calls by some Christian leaders to burn the Koran on 9/11 illustrates America’s rising hatred of Islam.
U.S Hospital Fires 4 Filipina Nurses for Speaking Tagalog on Their Lunch Break (June 2010) Four Filipina ex-staffers of a Baltimore City hospital haven’t gotten over the shock of being summarily fired from their jobs, allegedly because they spoke Pilipino during their lunch break. . . “They claimed they heard us speaking in Pilipino and that is the only basis of the termination. It wasn’t because of my functions as a nurse. There were no negative write-ups, no warning before the termination,” [Nurse Hachelle Hatano] added.
South Carolina State Senator Calls President Obama a “Raghead” (June 2010) Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts refers to President Obama and Nikki Haley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate of Indian descent: “We’ve already got a raghead in the White House, we don’t need another raghead in the governor’s mansion.”
Arizona Passes Law Censoring Ethnic Studies Programs (May 2010) On the heels of the law that critics argue would legalize racial profiling against Latinos, Arizona’s new anti-ethnic studies bill “prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.”
Alabama Governor Candidate Declares “We Speak English” (April 2010) Tim James, Republican candidate for Governor of Alabama, releases a TV ad in which he declares, “This is Alabama; we speak English. If you want to live here, learn it” (you can watch the actual ad at the link above).
John Jay College Accused of Bias Against Noncitizens (April 2010) The Justice Department files a lawsuit against John Jay College of Criminal Justice, accusing it of violating provisions of immigration law by demanding extra work authorization from at least 103 individuals since 2007.
Male Studies vs. Men’s Studies (April 2010) A group of White male academics are trying to create a new academic discipline that highlights the ways in which males (by implication, White males) are apparently an underrepresented and oppressed group in contemporary American society.
UC Regents Sorry for Acts of Hate on Campuses (March 2010) Summarizing numerous racist incidents at numerous University of CA (UC) campuses, students and faculty try to get the UC Regents to see that racial ignorance and intolerance is a serious and endemic problem.
The Year in Nativism (March 2010) The Southern Poverty Law Center summarizes notable recent hate crimes against immigrants in 2008 and notes that nativist extremist groups have more than tripled in number, from 144 in 2007 to 309 in 2009.
Justice Department Fights Bias in Lending (January 2010) Under a new initiative from the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department begins targeting the rising predatory practice of “reverse redlining” aimed predominantly at minorities in which “. . . a mortgage brokerage or bank systematically singles out minority neighborhoods for loans with inferior terms like high up-front fees, high interest rates and lax underwriting practices. Because the original lender would typically resell such a loan after collecting its fees, it did not care about the risk of foreclosure.”
New Basketball League for Whites Only (January 2010) The “All-American Basketball Alliance” announces plans to create a minor league basketball league in which “only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.”
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.
In the realm of racial/ethnic relations, sociologists consistently observe that certain beliefs — let’s even call them stereotypes — can take on a life of their own and attain a level of “legitimacy” that defies logic and rational thinking.
In the context of the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain, one persistent belief/stereotype is that Obama is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Muslim of course, but certain extremists are using this stereotype against Obama and suggesting that if elected, he will somehow turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
To shine some light into the nuts and bolts of how such outlandish perceptions can become so widespread, two authors have written an op-ed piece in the New York Times that illustrates the social and biological workings of this process:
The Obama campaign has created a Web site to dispel misinformation. But this effort may be more difficult than it seems, thanks to the quirky way in which our brains store memories — and mislead us along the way. . . For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.
This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.
With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength. . . .
Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to spread misinformation. They know that if their message is initially memorable, its impression will persist long after it is debunked.
In other words, when it comes to controlling information and what is perceived to be “true” or not, the link between biology and society becomes a very powerful tool for both sides to exploit and manipulate. This is in line with Joseph Goebbels’ (Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda) famous quote, “If you tell people a lie often enough, eventually they will start to believe it.”
With that in mind, we should also recognize that these days and through such media as the internet and various blogs, social networking sites, and other forms of mass communication, such misinformation can be spread quite easily and effectively.
In the past, liberals have not been quite as skilled in these respects. With this in mind, I hope this time we’ve learned our lesson and can better respond in asserting facts over stereotypes.
There were two stories in the news recently that involved allegations of racial profiling against Asians and other people of color. One involved a Black professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University who was stopped — and eventually arrested — by two campus security officers while he was trying to retrieve a book from his office:
Antwi Akom says he was just going to his office late on the night of October 25 to pick up a book he needed to prepare for class the next day. But after he was stopped by security guards at San Francisco State University, he ended up facing felony charges of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer. Akom, an assistant professor of Africana studies, was briefly jailed.
He has told supporters that he had an identification card and was willing to show it to the guards. Security officials have said that they did ask for the ID. The security report said he did not comply with reasonable requests. Akom’s supporters said that he repeatedly told the officers he was a professor and that he was in a rush because he had young children asleep in the car he drove to campus.
The incident has prompted a wave of meetings and demands for reform at San Francisco State. Professors say that Akom was a victim of racial profiling and that black employees routinely face harassment. The controversy is particularly upsetting to some professors, who say that they have taken pride in San Francisco State’s progressive reputation.
The Muslims said they did not know they were in a sensitive area, and they complained that they were subjected to racial profiling while they were praying, as their faith requires five times a day. “I’m as American as apple pie and I’m sitting there and now I’m made to feel like I’m an outsider, for no reason other than I have a long beard or that I prayed,” said Sami Shaban, a 27-year-old Seton Hall Law School student who lives in Piscataway.
Shaban said he and four friends had just gotten to the September 19 New York Giants-New Orleans Saints game when they left their seats to pray. Around halftime, 10 security officers and three state troopers approached the men and told them to come with them, Shaban said. The men were questioned and then were not allowed to return to their seats, but were instead assigned to seats in another section, Shaban said. Three guards stood near them, and escorted them to their cars when they left the stadium, he said.
As with most incidents, there are two sides to each story and conceivably, there may have been legitimate reasons why these two people of color were stopped, questioned, detained, and in the case of the Africana Studies professor, arrested.
But ultimately, these two incidents inevitably highlight the continuing issue of how people of color are still — even in 21st century globalized American society — constantly being questioned and challenged on their status as “real” or “authentic” Americans and whether their actions are considered “appropriate” by people in positions of power and authority, who in most cases, are White.
In other words, it is clear that the White-dominated social institutions and power structures of this country are still clinging on to the firmly-ingrained presumption that the only people who merit the identity of being “American,” and therefore who get to enjoy the direct and indirect privileges of that identity, are White (and perhaps even more specifically, male, upper class, and Protestant). Everyone else who does not fit into this category, apparently including professors working the birthplace of ethnic studies, are automatically seen as potential criminals.
Even when we as a nation and society are in a heightened state of awareness due to possible terrorist attacks, presuming that someone or a group of people are potential enemies based almost entirely on their racial/ethnic/national origin identity is the very definition of racial privilege and racial profiling. In other words, it is flat-out racist, unjust, and wrong.
American citizens theoretically enjoy certain freedoms from invasion of privacy and false searches and imprisonment by authorities. But unfortunately, those rights are apparently only valid if one is White.