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Arab Americans’ Identity

posted on: Jan 5, 2021

By: Noor Almohsin/Arab America Contributing Writer         The Arab community is a growing minority in the United States. The Arab American population is estimated at four million and is spread in all states, but primarily concentrated in Michigan, Illinois, California, Houston, and New York. Most Arab Americans who immigrated were highly educated professionals or were students who remained in the United States after graduation. In an earlier article, I discussed different yet similar reasons Arabs fled to the United States.

As a community, Arab Americans have issues that make it a fragmented group in the United States. One of these issues is that Arabs come from different Arab countries and backgrounds. This does not only rely on the national identity of the motherland but also various racial and religious groups, which also diversifies the political interests of the individuals who come from a specific Arab country. These interests are framed by the state’s policy from which Arabs come from.

Another issue Arab Americans encounter is that “Arab” has been a label of everyone from Middle and Near Eastern regions, which in fact, includes non-Arab groups. For example, people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Greece are confused and categorized as Arab.

In fact, racial identification of Arab Americans is still unclear, because some classifications categorize people from the Middle East and North Africa as white/Caucasian. While many Arab identify themselves as non-white or simply “other”. Unlike Asians and African Americans, many Arabs look white, if they don’t declare they were Arab, they would look like any other white people. Some of them prefer to conceal their Arab background to prevent discrimination.

After 9/11, the image of Arabs in the United States has been badly defamed and lead to public hostility towards anything Arabic. Thus, more Muslim and Arab Americans who are assimilated in society witnessed discrimination than those who live in their ethnic community. because religion and skin color are the main racial factors that influence discrimination in the United States. Therefore, some Arab Americans prefer to obscure their association with Arabs.

Despite Arabs’ association with the white race, Arab Americans still suffer some negative effects especially the Muslim ones. Therefore, the process of whiteness is a phenomenon that frames cultural citizenship by radicalizing Arab immigrants to the United States.

Another issue Arab Americans face is the way American media represents Arabs. This is not limited to the Arab character that Hollywood emphasized of wealthy, empty-brained, hostile, and uncivilized people. It also includes all the negative news reported from the Arab region that is directly associated with the Arab Americans. For instance, an Egyptian American will be asked about what happened in Syria.

Moreover, the policies of Arab states are linked in a way or another to Arab Americans. The moment Saudi Arabia announced allowing Saudi women to drive, it became a hot topic for all Arabs. These associations create distance between Arab Americans and the mainstream; hence, their exclusion from the social fabric.

The Arab community in the U.S is relatively a new group compared to well-established Hispanic and African groups. Therefore, many Arabs work to develop themselves at the individual level and not the communal one. Many Arab Americans still live in the fear mindset of change, failure, being troubled. Therefore, very few of them fully practice their civil right to express their views, take challenging positions against dominant power, and become involved to make a change. They prefer to avoid troubles.

The Arab American community is a snippet of the Arabs in Arab countries. They share many factors that could unify them. Arabic language, history, characteristics, and a lot more that I had elaborated on in a previous article about 10 unifying factors for Arabs. Despite the differences that were politically originated, Arab people have many more commonalities that could overpass these differences.

There are many qualified and successful Arab American figures in all fields and arenas such as doctors, engineers, and lawyers. In addition, many Arabs make successful business leaders in different industries. The unification of wealth and qualifications could lead to a powerful influential group inside and outside the United States.

A united Arab association can become a powerful lobby that affects policymaking in the United States and related to the Arab States. Such a union will enable Arab Americans to channel their resources for their good. It could serve the benefits of Arab people who aspire for economic, political, and security stability in the region, even without the support of Arab states that have conflicting interests. Such a union could be equivalent to AIPAC that supports and serves the Israeli agenda.

Yalla Vote, an initiative of the Arab American Institute, encourages Arab Americans to vote and make their voice heard.

The moment Arab Americans recognize their potential as a community, overpass their differences, and overcome their apprehension about noisier actions, they will be able to unify their effort and become a powerful community. Unification can effectively start in various industries.  

Arab Americans can invest in programs dedicated to bringing Arab Americans together such as community services, education, and entrepreneurship. Investing time, effort, and money in these programs would connect the Arab American community from within.

In addition, it is important to initiate constructive dialogue between Arab Americans in different settings to establish a common ground. These conversations are also important to take place outside the Arab communities in order to reach out and collaborate with other marginalized racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Moreover, Arab Americans need to publicize their own achievements in mainstream media by pitching news. They need to put emphasis on their relation to Arab Americans because they could simply pass without any association, and by that, they miss the contribution to develop and enhance the image of their community.

The unification of Arab Americans can blur the differences from a young age using Arab American for self-identification. When parents emphasize “Arab” rather than home country, the self-identification would become firmly solidified. Moreover, the collaboration between Arab students’ unions and associations at higher education will encourage them to be more active and effective members in their community and later Arab American lobbyists who serve Arab interests in the United States.

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