The following video is a teaser for a documentary called “We’re Not White”, which was created by Amer Zahr, a Palestinian-American comedian.  It talks about the Arab-American identity and experience, and addresses the lack of recognition of Arabs in the United States Census.  This teaser specifically asks Arab Americans how they answered the “race” portion of the census and how they feel about the options provided.

The following CNN article, titled “Arab- and Persian-American campaign: ‘Check it right’ on census,” describes a 2010 campaign called “Check it right, you ain’t white!” encouraging Arab- and Persian-Americans to check the “other” box on the 2010 census and write in their true ancestry. The purpose of the campaign was to get Arab-Americans to stop identifying themselves as white on official documents since they do not often receive the perks of whiteness and are normally treated as an “other.” Omar Masry, a main organizer of the campaign, helped promote the idea that since Arab-Americans are treated differently, it’d be beneficial for them to claim their differences on the census to gain representation. Referring to the efforts of older immigrants who came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century to achieve white status and be incorporated into the middle class, activist/comedian Maz Jobrani says, “there’s no need to hide” now that Arab-Americans are “successful.” Jobrani said he’s proud of being American and proud of his heritage.

This campaign and the reactions to it bring up an interesting difference between generations. Although children of immigrants are stereotypically viewed as willing to cast aside their previous culture to assimilate into American society, in this case the young Arab-Americans are the group who tend to support this campaign. Many young Arab-Americans feel that they haven’t been treated as “white” in a post-9/11 United States. Interestingly, leaders of the movement expressed that older Arab-Americans tended to identify more strongly as white and be more resistant to the campaign. The support among Arab-Americans for this initiative also shows that being Arab and being American are not mutually exclusive; the idea that you must become white and cast aside your culture in order to become American is flawed. Individuals can retain and combine elements of both cultures, negotiating their identity and creating their own space between being Arab and being American – two worlds that are often incorrectly seen as unrelated.

The question, “what race are you?”, is difficult to answer for many Americans. Many feel that they aren’t just “white” or “Hispanic.” Some feel the need to take it further by stating they are “Brazilian” or “Mexican” in order to better describe their identity.  The same issue has risen in the Arab-American community.  Up until this point, Arabs were classified as being white under the U.S. census report, but some Arab-Americans have set out to change that.  Being that many do not consider themselves white, the Arab American Institute submitted a letter to the US Census Bureau to afford U.S. citizens from the Middle East and North Africa the opportunity to better pinpoint their identity. Depending on public feedback, the Census Bureau may move toward including a new Middle East-North Africa (MENA) classification on the 2020 census. This new classification could affect things like congressional district boundaries and allocation of funding and would allow for better representation of Arab-American interests.

It is clear that the negotiation of identity is an enduring process for groups seen as an “other” within the United States.


Identity Politics:

Omar Offendum is an Syrian American hip-hop artist and activist. From 1:15-2:30 in the interview, Offendum describes the need for Arab Americans to do more than bring attention to negative political issues. He encourages them to engage in identity politics in order to both reclaim Arab American identity and create a safe space for public discourse. By bringing the Arab American community in contact with mainstream American culture, Offendum presents Arab Americans as whole, dynamic people as opposed to solely political actors or minority caricatures, allowing him to both solidify a stance in identity politics and create a more receptive audience for specific politicized issues concerning the community.

All-American Muslim Overview:

TLC’s 2011 “docu-series”, All-American Muslim follows five families living in Dearborne, a largely Muslim American town in Michigan. The aim of the show was to portray Muslim-Americans as relatable, and to counter the idea that all Muslims are extremists. As one member of the cast, Suehaila Amen said, “Our show helped to pave the way for the moderate Muslim voice to be heard in this nation.” The series was seen as controversial by some, and was cancelled before its second season began due to the efforts of the conservative Florida Family Association, who encouraged Lowe’s, one of the show’s main sponsors, to withdraw their ads.

In 1:26-3:17 of this clip, the football coach explains that the practice schedule would be altered. To accommodate the fact that the majority of the players fasted during Ramadan, the superintendent had cleared the proposal to hold practices from 10 pm to 5 am. This is an example of the show’s attempt to show Muslim Americans in a “normal” situation, and allow viewers to compare it to non-Muslim Americans’ experience in the same situation. In addition, the segment demonstrates a form of identity negotiation in which the students are able to successfully reconcile their Muslim and American identities, representing the idea that Arab American identity is fluid and able to exist in an overlapping middle ground between both cultures.


The medium of a reality show is unique tool for political activism. However, because it is ultimately a form of media, it is subject to the biases of the dominant social narrative in the United States. As a result, the message of the Arab American community in Dearborn, Michigan is filtered and reshaped so that only certain forms of Arab and Muslim identity expression are represented, specifically those deemed socially acceptable by the dominant group. A major example of this phenomenon is the conflation that all Muslims are Arabs. However, a more nuanced example is the quote by Suehaila Amen who discusses how the show is a platform for moderate Muslim voices. Although this an important form of representation in a time where Muslims are stereotyped as violent religious extremists, it also creates a situation in which Islam is only accepted by mainstream America in its moderate form- a stipulation that is not extended to other religions.

A troupe of Muslim comic performers, some of whom are Arab American, called Allah Made Me Funny, focus their stand up acts on issues they encounter as Muslim Americans. They’re extremely popular among Muslims in America, since they address in their acts the troubles they face with stereotyping, racial profiling, and living in post 9/11 America. Their use of comedy, however, allows them and Muslims who share their experiences to reclaim the discourse surrounding their race and religion after instances of discrimination severely escalated in the US. The men in the troupe come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, but all share similar experiences relating to discrimination because of their Muslim faith. In the video below, Azhar Usman makes light of the perception of Muslims in the American media, by joking about dynamics in Muslim households between men and their wives. He also brings in his own experience dealing with airport security and the visible discomfort he causes to his fellow passengers on planes with his stereotypically Muslim appearance.

In this next video, Arab American comedians Tissa Hami and Dean Obeidallah talk about how their experiences changed after 9/11 and also shared, in a hilarious way, their experiences dealing with airport security. Also, towards the end of the interview, they bring up the crucial point about the purpose of their work as Muslim and Arab American comedians. Dean Obeidallah says, “comedy really disarms people. People like to laugh, and they learn a lot through the shows, and we have fun.” When discussing their experiences with airport security, Obeidallah semi-jokingly suggests to “look white” in order to “make your flight.” Even though he says this humorously, there is a grain of truth to his statement and it makes listeners question if toning down one’s “Arab-ness” could truly affect struggles faced due to racial profiling. Hami also encourages viewers to question their thoughts on stereotypes when she removes her jacket and head scarf in order to appear more American. The transition makes the audience question the preconceived notions they had about her based on her appearance.

Finally, the use of the art of comedy to address stereotypes and instances of discrimination faced by Muslims and Arab Americans is a way for these comedians to regain a sense of agency and insert their voices to change the conversation about race and religion in a post 9/11 America.

Background for Video 

Ever since the beginning of the Arab spring in 2011, large numbers of refugee immigrants knocked on Europe’s door and asked for help. Thousands of people finally had the chance and opportunity to seek better life. Questions came to mind among European socialists – Who are really the Arabs trying to settle homes here? What do they really want? Are they just trying to take advantage of our social aid programs? Larger groups of Arabs headed to Scandinavian countries for various reasons that I won’t discuss, because of their complexity. The reality was that countries in Scandinavian Peninsula had to adjust to the big wave of refugees. Needless to say some people had negative opinion on the matter, ironically after standing behind the US invasion supporting one hundred percent the bringing down Saddam Hussein. In the following years negativity about immigration escalate dramatically. We can recall the horrific attack In July 2011, where 77 lives were taken, of whom mostly children. This act of violence was to be “attention grabber” for politics and government of what was happening. The most brutal and violent “protest” in recent history. The attack was not based only on the Arab immigration, but there were statements in its’ manifest linking it. All of this back lashed onto Arab-Muslim communities. Many cases of mistreat and racial profiling were overlooked over again. Now this brings us the video of the blindfolded Muslim man Ashkan, who stood with his arms spread outward, and a sing that read, “I’m Muslim, not the same as terrorist. Do you trust me? I trust you!”.

The Pew Report: What does it show about identity? 

GRI arabs in america pewforum

Pew forum is a website is a non partisan organization that has a collection of facts and statistics about various aspects of the world. One database they had were about the Arab Spring and how it had added to the global restrictions on religion. This trend is said to had happened between 2010-2011 during several political uprisings and changes in the middle east. They took statistics studying the aspects of the government restrictions on religion and social aspects on hostility towards religion. The reported statistics report that the middle east in both governmental and social aspects had risen in hostility and restrictions. However the interesting statistic were with the countries in the Americas, which obviously includes the U.S.. With the previous video that took place in Stockholm, Sweden the gentlemen had said, “I am not a terrorist, I trust you, do you trust me?” with a positive responses from the area. European countries are still above the Americas in hostility with almost 2 times the amount of government restriction index and social hostility index. One can see how this could affect immigrants coming in from different countries, such as Middle Eastern Arabs. Immigrants going from their countries to countries with different GRI’s and SHI’s can affect an individual’s outward expression of their identity. In order to avoid scrutiny and punishment from social and governmental forms individual governments would have to change their perceived identity. If the same act was to happen in the americas how would it be reacted to? How about in the middle east? Interpreting the data from the graphs, it might have been treated with more of positive reaction in the Americas but with more scrutiny in the Middle East. This research, combined with the previous video, shows how a person identity can be different in different areas even though they are the same person and how where they are living can create a different outward expression of their own identity which includes their culture, heritage, and sexual identity. GRI and SHI don’t only differ from country to country but also from bordering states and provinces. Although no data is given on these individual areas, one can assume that GRI’s and SHI’s can vary within these areas and further affect individual expressions of identity.

Violence and its Role in the Formation of Identity 

Following 9/11 and the subsequent military presence in the Middle Eastern region the number of hate crimes that are perpetrated towards Muslims have grown drastically. In fact, the number of hate crimes against non-Muslim groups have also grown since 2001 if the ethnic minority has the possibility of being perceived as a Muslim or as an Arab. As a result identity can become an even more contested for religious and ethnic minorities living within the United States. With the number of hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus, and Arabs growing the FBI announced in June 2016 that they would begin to change the way that crimes against these groups and other minority groups were recorded so that there would be a more accurate representation for crimes statistics. However, at least once a month if not more frequently, depending on where in the United States a person lives, there is a story about a crime that was perpetrated because the offender believed the victim to be a Muslim or Arab and therefore a terrorist. As the crime rate remains a concern for many ethnic minorities it can change the way that they choose to physically and mentally identify with their ethnic identity. Some Muslim women have forgone their hijabs or other traditional forms of dress to better blend in within the American society while others have made the choice to wear the hijab to have a physical representation of their religious and personal beliefs. Minorities of other religions also have grown in the belief that they have to identify themselves as either Muslim or non-Muslim, Arab or non-Arab so that they have more control of their identity and they way that it is perceived by others that are around them and that may pass unfair judgements on a person based on an assumed identity that the outside observer prescribes to that individual.

As the question of identity becomes an ever growing question of concern within society it is clear that more than just a persons race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and immigration status come into play. As individuals  internally and externally grapple with their identity it is impacted by not only their personal beliefs but also the societal paradigms that surround them and identities that are projected upon them by the outside observer.