Combating racism in the Arab American community

In a perfect world, there would be no groups marginalized on the basis of race, national origin, religion or other defining characteristics. In an imperfect - yet still more desirable - world than the one in which we live, these marginalized groups would band together in the hope of asserting their communities’ respective needs and demands. Given the state of separatism within the Arab American community (as well as others), this imperfect reality seems an unlikely hope.

 

When one thinks of racism in relationship to Arab Americans, the mind (perhaps unfairly) usually conjures images of anti-Jewish sentiment. And, indeed, that is a problem in our community (don't the Arab Americans who voted for George W. Bush because they couldn't cast their vote for a ticket that included Jewish Joe Lieberman feel foolish now?), but that isn't the only prejudice we're guilty of perpetuating.

 

Historically, as immigrant groups have entered the Americas, the dirty practice of survival has included subjugating other ethnic groups to ensure a slightly higher place on the food chain. The Irish did it to Italians and blacks, Italians did it to blacks and Puerto Ricans and so on and so forth. In some segments of the Arab American community, this "tradition" is alive and well in the way African Americans are regarded.

 

Along the way, some Arab Americans have gotten it into their heads that they are superior to African Americans. I've heard the word 3abeed (slave) thrown around more times than I'd care to admit. I find it funny (but not really) on a few levels because (1) often times the people slinging the slur are but a half a shade lighter, if that, than those they're demeaning, (2) while insulting African Americans, they're often appropriating their culture and (3) the so-called "white" majority doesn't particularly care for either of our groups, but I'd bet money that - post 9/11 - African Americans are held in a higher esteem than we.

 

Of course, not all Arab Americans are culprits and some African Americans are certainly guilty of racism and xenophobia against us, but I believe that if we are complacent and quiet about this problem in our community, we are condoning it. Hold others accountable for their words. African Americans and Arab Americans have a breadth of shared experiences, albeit unpleasant ones - job discrimination, racial profiling, etc. - why beat each other up, doesn't everybody else do that enough?

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About Josephine Zohny

Josephine Zohny was born to an Italian-American mother and an Egyptian-born father in Pittsburgh, PA. She grew up in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and moved to New York City shortly before the September 11th attacks to attend college. She received a B.A. in Music Business, Writing (Creative Non-fiction) and Race and Ethnic Studies from NYU in 2005. She is currently the Director of Entertainment Publicity for WeRoqq Publicity and Promotion, primarily representing hip-hop and r&b artists. Her writings on music, pop culture and critical race theory have appeared on PopMatters.com, EURWeb and in Colorlines and Z!nk, among other outlets and publications. She is intensely interested in the issues of ethnic identity as it pertains to Arabs, both in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in the diaspora. Her personal blog can be found at www.jzohny.com.

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