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Do I Look White to You?: The “White Arab" Myth in America

posted on: Aug 2, 2021

Photo by Enayet Raheem on Unsplash

By: Qaïs S. Ahmadī / Arab America Contributing Writer

White or Wrong?

There was an alleged mass shooting at a Boulder, Colorado grocery store on March 22, 2021. This followed the Atlanta, Georgia spa shooting by a white man who had a “really bad day.” In the same token, social media quickly ruled that the Boulder suspect is also a white male. The police apprehended the suspected shooter, Ahmad Al-Issa, almost naked and soaked in blood. For a brief moment, America said he was white man. But when the official results came back with his Arab name, that quickly changed.

“Pay attention to these responses and who is targeted.” – Ilhan Omar (D-MN)

Technically, in America, Arabs are white. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau, whites are defined as, “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” Al-Issa’s origin is from Syria, and his tribe is apparently from Raqqa. Well, Syria is in the Middle East, the Levant, specifically. In Arabic, the Levant is known as (بلاد الشام) to Arabs and Muslims. On paper (e.g. the Census), Syrians are free to claim whiteness. But, in America, the “white Arab” is another myth.

White Privilege: Having a Bad Day

White Privilege Revoked

As “white” as people may think he may look, the fact that Al-Issa was born in Syria robs him of any white privilege. FrontPage Mag brands him as, “a Muslim terrorist from the capitol of ISIS.” Again, the conservative media demonizes another ancient Middle Eastern country so that post-9/11 and post-Muslim-Ban propaganda is regurgitated. As a result, anyone from Syria is now a potential terrorist because “the problem was that a Syrian immigrant from the capital of ISIS was in Colorado and in America.”

Assimilation Problem?

“The problem is not that a Syrian immigrant from the capital of ISIS had a gun. The problem was that a Syrian immigrant from the capital of ISIS was in Colorado and in America.”


To add, Al-Issa’s faith is still a problem in America. The phantom threat of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Taliban, al-Shabab, or any poorly armed militia thousands of miles away is rooted in Islamophobia. How vilified would these militias be as Anglo-Saxon crusaders or Zionists? Islam terrifies the West, especially Shariah law, and anyone who immigrates from an Islamic country wants to potentially force it down Americans throats. This is what the conservative media has been feeding viewers, over, and over, and over, again. As a result, Islamophobic propaganda and tropes are always present, especially in mass shootings. Ironically, the alleged shooter became a “radical” in a post-9/11 and post-Muslim-Ban America.

Neocon Synonyms for Terror and Terrorist

According to FrontPage, “[Al-Issa’s] family members insist that Ahmad Al-Issa was not a radical, but he was clearly a committed Muslim and his Facebook page, since taken down, is filled with Islamic content, and with attacks on President Trump and on America over ‘Islamophobia.’” On the opposite side, Wajahat Ali noted that “Islamic” was trending as the conservative media covered the Boulder shooting. Systemically, people have been programmed to run for cover from Islam and Muslims – now synonyms for terror and terrorists.

Al-Issa learned the very hard way the he was not allowed to be angry or have a bad day: he was bullied at school, was surveilled by the FBI, saw many bad days in America as a Syrian refugee, and his family is described as a “disruptive” by neighbors.

The [liberal] media is spinning this as a mental illness, but if hating non-Muslims is a mental illness, then it’s a common one in his home country.


But does it mean he hates America? If so, then why not place the Jan. 6th Insurrectionists in the same category because they are extremely angry at the government and incredibly violent, all the time. The difference is he is an Arab-Muslim; he does not have that same privilege to white rage. Leave it to FrontPage Mag to brainwash you into thinking Al-Issa supposedly planned the alleged mass shooting, “Ahmad Al-Issa grew up in America and hated every minute of it. He hated his host country, his classmates and his peers. Over the years, his hatred grew until it consumed him. Then it consumed in his victims in a murderous rampage aimed at non-Muslim Coloradans.”

As opposed to helping a Syrian traumatized refugee assimilate and integrate into his host society, Al-Issa is another Middle Easterner crucified by the conservative media.

A BlackAmerican Perspective on Arabs

Arguably, a number of blackAmericans assume Arabs enjoy white privilege and supremacy in America not just overseas.

Also, Tariq Nasheed says religion and ethnic origin does not matter in whiteness. However, this argument carries no weight when the suspect is not an American. This may work for white reverts – who before Islam – were white, and still are white after reverting. Take Sheikh Yusuf Estes or Sinead O’Connor for instance. They chose Islam, but can an Arab choose to be white or revert to it? Cultural citizenship is not the same as legal citizenship.

“Do I Look White to You?”

Rep. Tlaib to Census Bureau Director: Do I Look White To You?

To conclude, the U.S. Census of classifying Middle-Easterners and North Africans are whites has become another of the white man’s burden to bear. As heavy as a burden it may be to some leaders in the U.S. government, MENA-Americans must be privileged as whites in this country. Of course, every MENA immigrant or refugee’s story in America would be entirely different if treated equally to “the original peoples of Europe.” There are many like Al-Issa who live with the white myth until their Arab or Muslim heritage is othered.

Photo by T Foz on Unsplash

Qaïs S. Ahmadī is an exiled Afghan refugee activist raised in the East Bay Area, California with a decade of global experience in higher education. He is an active researcher having produced highly acclaimed peer-reviewed publications in his respective field. His expatriate experiences include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the State of Qatar, Japan, and the People’s Republic of China. He looks forward to contributing knowledge based content to the Arab America audience.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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