Tuesday, November 17, 2009

mistake greeks for arabs, arabs for muslims, and muslims for terrorists

This is a guest post for swpd by Jillian C. York, who began her writing career after living in Morocco and publishing her first book, Culture Smart! Morocco: A Guide To Customs and Culture (Random House, 2006), shortly thereafter. Jillian describes herself as "a writer, activist, Internet censorship combatant, and blogger currently based in Boston. I work at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society on the OpenNet Initiative and Herdict, and blog all over the place, including for the Huffington Post. My personal blog resides here, and I tweet here." 


Last week, a few days after the horrific events of Fort Hood, a Marine reservist in Florida mistook a visiting Greek Orthodox priest for a "terrorist" and beat him with a tire iron.  The reservist (who was indeed white) made all sorts of wild claims -- that the priest yelled "Allahu Akbar," that he made a lewd hand gesture. . . claims that have been widely refuted.

What really happened is this: The Greek priest, Father Alexios Marakis, was visiting Florida for the purpose of blessing another priest.  He got lost while driving, and pulled over to ask for help.  He was dressed in a robe and did not speak English very well, so the Marine, Jasen Bruce (who is sticking to his story and refuses to apologize) got freaked out and beat the crap out of him.

Because he looked like a terrorist. 
Which really means he looked Muslim. 
Which really means he looked "Arab." 
Which really means he looked different, and that scares white people.


I don't know exactly what it is about white Americans. . . I can say, from anecdotal personal experience, that Europeans and other white people traveling throughout the Middle East and North Africa often make silly orientalist comments, and I'm fully aware of the idiotic British BNP (and other European right-wing parties) that would happily rid Europe of all Muslims. However, there seems to be a special kind of ignorance amongst white Americans when it comes to Muslims and Arabs.  It goes something like this:

1. They don't know the difference between "Muslim" and "Arab."  Remember last year during one of McCain's town hall meetings when a middle-aged white woman objected to Obama by saying, "but he's-he's-an ARAB!"?  It was obvious to many of us that what she really meant to object to was his religion -- after all, it was part of the zany right-wing public debate at the time -- but instead she just somehow got confused and cried "Arab."  You know, because it doesn't really matter right?  Which brings us to McCain's response . . . "No, he's not, ma'am, he's a DECENT family man." As if being an "Arab" disqualifies a man from being a decent family man.  Which leads to:

2.  They think "Muslim" and "good person" are mutually exclusive. McCain was quite aware that the woman meant to say "Muslim" and yet chose to defend Obama not just by saying "No, ma'am he's not," but also by feeling compelled to add "he's a decent family man."  The implication?  That one cannot be both an Arab (or Muslim, since that's what we all know the woman meant) and a good man. I often hear comments about how obesity is the last acceptable prejudice in this country, but I'd like to argue that Islamophobia is far more widespread and accepted. Can you imagine if white people blatantly still said such horrible things about Black people? It's completely unheard of in many parts of the United States for someone to say "nigger," but "sandnigger"?  In many places in this country, that's totally okay.

3. They don't realize that most Muslims aren't Arab.  Going back to point #1, the imagery of what it means to be Muslim in the United States is so tied in with our images of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf (not even the Arab world on the whole!) that even on progressive blogs, you will often see people refer in blanket terms to Muslim women's dress as "the burqa."  What they don't seem to realize is that the countries with the largest Muslim population are all in Asia (where, mind you, women don't even wear the burqa), and not Arab at all!

4. They mistake non-Muslims and non-Arabs for Muslims and Arabs.  In the years since 9/11 (though before as well), many groups have become collateral damage in racist attacks against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S.  Iranians, Greeks, Sikhs, Hindus, and sometimes, anyone with a beard seems to be a target. 6 years ago, a Hindu was mistaken for a Muslim in Boston and beaten. . .and just last week, as noted above, it happened to a Greek priest.

5. They think "Middle Eastern" is a race.  Except on the census.  While the region also known as the Middle East and North Africa is often referred to as "the Arab world," the latter is somewhat of a misnomer and more accurately refers to a shared language (kind of like the way Latino is often used).  From Morocco to Saudi Arabia, there are Arabs, but there are also Amazigh (Berbers), Moors, Bedouins, and plenty of other native groups that prefer not to be referred to as "Arab."  But when they come to the United States, it doesn't matter anyway, as they're expected to check the "White" box. . . imagine arriving from Mauritania, on the continent of Africa, and being told you can't check the "African-American" box.  True story.

6. They assume that all Arabs are Muslim.  I love this one. . . It never ceases to amaze me the blanket statements made about "that part of the world," and "their practices."  Nevermind the native Coptic, Maronite, and Orthodox Christian populations, the converts, the Jews, the Druze, the Zoroastrians, the Baha'i.  And if on the off chance you do meet someone who is aware of those other populations, they're still likely to try to convince you that they're those populations are all oppressed by the Muslims, anyway.  Which brings me to my last and most important point. . .

7. They pretend it's not racism.  So, Islam is not a race, and to many, "Arab" isn't either. . . It doesn't matter: there is plenty of evidence of racism against all of the aforementioned groups. In fact, there's significant evidence to suggest that systematic racism is practiced against Muslims and those with Muslim or Arab-sounding names (regardless of actual faith) in a number of places.  This BBC article discusses the racist practice of not hiring Arabs and Muslims based on name alone (in France). Though I'm not aware of any study, I've seen the same happen in the U.S. And the exclusion of North Africans from being qualified as "African-American" on the census and on scholarship applications (again, they're supposed to check the "white" box) means they're doubly discriminated against: Not really white, but not non-white enough to benefit from certain programs.

And that's only the beginning -- as we saw in a video Macon posted last week, Muslims (especially Muslim women who wear hijab) are often assumed not to be American, even when they were born here.  Arabs are pulled to the side for "random checks" nearly every time they fly.  And more often than not, when an Arab or Muslim does commit a crime, the entire Arab and Muslim communities are expected to speak out against it (ask yourself: would we expect the same every time a Christian or white person committed a crime?).

Here's a thought: Perhaps if people, and the media, made more of an effort to know the difference between a Muslim, an Arab, a Persian, a Hindu. . . or better yet, a Moroccan, a Syrian, a Saudi, a Kuwaiti. . . Perhaps if everyone made more of an effort to see people as unique peoples from particular countries and cultures, or better yet -- as individuals! -- they would be less likely to commit atrocious acts against them based on assumptions.  Perhaps they would be less likely to expect Muslims as a group to speak for one individual Muslim, and perhaps they'd be more likely to understand that an entire mass of 325 million people who just happen to share a common language most certainly do not share a common perspective.

85 comments:

  1. This is great: http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/american_muslims_to_fort

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  2. Perhaps if people, and the media, made more of an effort to know the difference between a Muslim, an Arab, a Persian, a Hindu. . . or better yet, a Moroccan, a Syrian, a Saudi, a Kuwaiti. . .

    or a Sikh, so things like this don't happen: http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/16/gen.hate.crimes/

    Thank-you for writing this post. I wish more Americans would take the time to discuss race and issues like this.

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  3. This is a great write up. When I heard about the Fort Hood shooting and how the accused man shouted Allah's name before opening fire I just knew that life was going to get ridiculous for Arab Americans and any Muslims in the country. It's horrible to know that people will attack others just because they think they are of Arabic descent and Muslims, but I wonder if the news story would have been reported on if the man beaten hadn't been Christan and Greek but had actually been from the Middle East.

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  4. Great post -- another example of mistaking Muslims for terrorists can be seen in the Fathima Rifqa Bary situation.

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  5. "It's completely unheard of in many parts of the United States for someone to say "nigger," but 'sandnigger'?"

    I disagree with this quote from the post. You can't take the "nigger" out of "sandnigger." While it's true that people are more likely to be racist against Arabs and/or Muslims in public than they are against black people, it is the same [white, racist] people who hate both, and they use both "nigger" and "sandnigger." People who don't use one aren't likely to use the other, either.

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  6. I have never heard about the fact that Middle Easterners or North Africans having to mark the "White" box on the census or other applications. I googled it and couldn't find anything. Do you have a link to another article(s) that discusses this?

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  7. Thanks for your post! Excellent! Thanks for remembering the Palestinian, Lebanese, Iraqi Christians too! Some people consider Palestinian christians to be the world's first Christians and among the original followers of Jesus 2000 years ago. A lot of towns associated with Jesus as a matter of fact are where the Palestinian Christians and Muslims live like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Hebron and also have places like Qana, Lebanon where Jesus was said to turn water into wine, etc. People forget Christians of Middle East. Could it be because the Christians are Arabs and not Muslims?

    And what about Muslims in Sierra Leone and Niger? Most West African countries from Senegal to Nigeria to even Mozambique have millions of Muslims that are ignored by the "all Muslims are Arabs" media image. Islam is so diverse and is different in each country and region.

    Its a shame the media does not take the time to see that Islam in itself is one thing nor religion that belongs to solely to Arab countries. Not only is the Quran in Arabic but has also been translated into ENglish, Uyghur, Turkish, Spanish, French, Bosnian, etc.

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  9. I love this post, but keep in mind that sometimes the placing of Moorish, Persian, Arabic and other cultures under the same umbrella comes from within. For example, the "Museum of the Arab World" in Paris, directed by people of the above cultures, puts many cultures under the "Arab" umbrella. I think we need to remember that some people who are Persian or Moorish, etc. may choose to identify as Arab.

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  10. @myperspective -- you're simply racist against blacks and looking for an excuse -- nobody derailed this topic from the sufferings of Arabs/Middle Easterners/and Muslims and even if black individuals did only a bigot would use that as a reason to hate a whole racist, and if you stop caring about issues of justice because someone of a certain race ignores you you weren't anti-racist in the first place

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  12. @myperspective08 - what are you talking about when you say that this post went from being about White people to being about Black people? Where is it about Black people?

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  14. myperspective, no one is asking for your sympathy. You seem to think that other minorities rag on others. Yeah, that's true. But you know what? That's exactly what you're doing now.

    shove it and shut up.

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  15. ....

    once again, myperspective, you have such a weak, lame argument. Racism exists everywhere, but it doesn't give you an excuse to dismiss other minority groups' struggle just because a few bad apples are racist toward black people.

    YOU, honey, sound like you have a real problem with other minority groups.

    YOU are an example that even black people can be racist and prejudiced.

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  16. @perspective-Blacks can be racist against blacks -- and on your blog on several post you define biracial (which you claim to be) as separate from black. The part of the post about North Africans wasn't about black people -- read for comprehension. The point about the slur sand------ was about how people are MORE racist against Arabs than blacks. It was sympathy for Arabs.

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  18. @myperspective08, as a Black woman, I can't see how either of those statements are "about Blacks." The first is pointing out that people from (North) Africa who move to America (or people who are born in America but whose parents are from N. Africa) are not considered African-American on the census. Instead, they are considered White. How is that "about Black people?" The second statement says that while it is considered unacceptable to say the work "nigger" in public, people are comfortable saying "sandnigger" in public. I think the same can be said for slurs against Mexicans (or people that people think are Mexican). Either way, I don't see how the statement is "about Black people." You can't expect people to have empathy and seek understanding of your experience and plight if you're not going to reciprocate.

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  19. Yonnie8k, Arabs are classed as white on the census. There was a case a while ago of an Egyptian man, Mostafa Hefny, suing to be classed as black, since like many Egyptians he had unmistakeably African features. Here is a link from CNN from hasty googling: http://www.cnn.com/US/9707/16/racial.suit/

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  21. @myperspective, everyone else was talking about Arabs -- the first person to talk about blacks was you. Btw, "I'm not racist I'm colorist" is a stupid way of trying to pretend you're not racist. On your blog
    Questions of a Biracial Girl you make it clear that you are colorist against darker skinned blacks -- racism against a racial phenotype is racism. What you do is define yourself as biracial and separate from blacks in some posts, and then call yourself black, as you admit on this thread, as a defense against accusations of racism. Being a victim of discrimination doesn't mean you aren't also racist. And notice, you didn't say "as a black person I'm discriminated against" -- you said, "I'm discriminated against as much as blacks" -- so apparently you can't even sustain a claim of blackness for one post. You spout enough racism and self-hatred on your own blog, no need to troll here.

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  22. @myperspective, the only post that compared the racism faced by different minorities was Rachel saying Arabs had it worse as people would use racial slurs towards them they wouldn't think of using towards blacks -- but reading through your racism bifocals you immediately slammed blacks.

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  23. The whole "Arabs are white" thing is such a crock. Arabs are not white by American social classifications except for on antiquated race boxes on paper forms, and this designation is leftover from pseudoscience about caucasoids vs. negroids vs. mongoloids stuff from a long time ago. Some Arabs who happen to be pale skinned and have fair eyes and hair can blend in with white people if they give up any signs of their Arabness. So that is a form of privilege that darker Arabs and other people of color do not have...the ability to choose to pass as white. Still, that privilege comes with annihilating their Arab identity. Being an Arab white person with Arab culture and Arabic language, especially of Muslim religion (blonde, blue eyed Lebanese woman in headscarf is NOT white), is not part of the American, European or Australian narrative of whiteness the way it would be for Greeks or Euro-origin Jews or other so-called "white ethnics".

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  24. What, I thought that in US census you can check whatever race-box you want?

    What I understand of the US census system, it seems to be very clumping: all of human diversity is crammed into five(?) arbitrarily defined categories. Of course this makes some sense because traditionally most American "Whites" are from North-West Europe, "Blacks" are from West Africa and most "Asians" are from China-Korea-Japan region. When the divisions become blurred, everyone who is not stereotypically white is seen as non-white. I remember that someone on this site (Macon?) used the word "Brown"?

    The American concept of ethnicity seems to be very much race-based. Here in Europe it is more based on language and culture. Of course people still mess up a lot between race, culture and religion. Indeed, the word "racism" is mostly understood as discrimination against other cultures. Generally, people of Middle Eastern and African origin are supposed to be muslim.

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  25. I wonder what would've happened to jesus Christ if he had reappeared in front of the marine reservist... We Should be teaching some sort of civilazations of the world or some sort of cultural class to educate Americans about ethnicities, its emabrrisng to be calling ourselves the greatest country in the world and we cant even tell apart an arab from a palestinian... Muslims may have some extrimist terrorist (which are condemmed by the majority of muslims) but American chritianity has their white supremist groups who are also violent or very vocal... People are people.... and religion only makes it worse

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  26. What a n fool this was a great post highlighting how people who look different are a threat to white americans.

    The Greek man was a foreigner, he looked different and sounded different so in that fools mind he concluded that "He's an Bin Laden guy get him!"

    people do confuse Arab and Musilm and all that lot. I'm Black, Nigerian and I am muslim (though i do not practice Islam anymore) My first name is a arabic name so when I have told people I am muslim they give me a look and say "you don't look muslim." WTF
    LOL "But he's Arab!" foolishness
    No sweetie he's black with an arabic name, guess we know who didn't pass religious education class.

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  27. I giggled when I read the title of this post - because it's so true from my experience.

    It wasn't so much until 9/11 and the neocons and Bush Administration stirred up hate via propaganda to justify invading Iraq. It was bizzare, how they linked that country to the alleged terrorists and bin Laden, who mostly are from Saudi Arabia where the US has a cozy relationship with OPEC (the oil cartel for those who don't know). They succeeded so easily in manipulating a huge proportion of the population to distrust and even hate anyone with "the look" of human beings from the Middle East to justify bombing and murdering over a million people, not to mention the injuries and suffering of millions more.

    I've always felt that if the Iraqis and Afghanis looked like your classic Euro blonde with blue eyes, the American public would have had so much more empathy, and given more thought and investigation to what was a truth and what was a lie. But they didn't, because non-whites aren't seen as quite human enough to deserve that respect or consideration.

    The bonus of this racism during the Bush years is that it America's pocketbook so hard that the people said 'enough' - because the color they like the best is not white, but $green$. Rather than vote for another Bush (McCain), they chose Obama.

    Whether he turns out to bring the "change" in our diminished standard of living is yet to be seen, but his being swept into office has brought about long overdue conversations on race. This is a painful process for whites, and racist whites in particular, but no damn picnic for blacks and browns either.

    IF we can avoid WW3, I am optimistic enough to believe that 10 to 20 years from now, most of us will have released our chains of bigotry and finally become civil to one another... in other words, civilized.

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  28. Rachel - You're right, I was using "sandnigger" for emphasis. That said, I think the point still remains - people who would never say "nigger" might still use ethnic slurs against Muslims and Arabs. I've heard it many times myself.

    Yonnie8k - Here's just one article on the subject (http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=144327). Of course Arabs can check "other" but they are not permitted to check "African-American" even if they are from Africa. And as you know, there is no "Arab" box. What would you expect a Saudi, for example, to check?

    Upchurch - You're definitely right that a lot of ethnic minorities in the region do choose to identify as Arab, but we should also remember those who don't (e.g. the strong Amazigh movement in Morocco).

    Thank you all, btw, for your comments, and sorry there was a racist derailer in the midst (whose comments were deleted by the time I woke up). I appreciate the support in my writing this.

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  29. Everytime I see something like this, I always think if we would actualy EDUCATE our youth about different cultures in school, crap like this might just be avoided.

    World Education has to start young and be persistant throughout their school career. I honestly think this is one of the best ways to shape US future in regards to racism.

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  30. this is a great article. it really bothers me when people generalize a specific group of people under one religious umbrella. it's almost as bad as calling someone from say cuba (or any country in the south america or caribbeans) spanish. spanish people live in europe (in the country of spain) and look white.

    people fail to realize that people with caucasian features live in africa (mostly nothern africa) and there are many people who live in europe that have african features (have you ever seen a black frenchman?).

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  31. Although no one has done it yet, in case anyone plans to argue the media isn't to blame (not that any of you would), I thought this was kind of interesting:

    http://worldjournalism.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/why-americans-dont-know-much-about-the-world/

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  32. @Keep it trill -- many Afghaniss do indeed look white with blue or green Sharbot Gula eyes, skin as fair as a Western European's, and even light colored hair -- I've always thought that if more Americans knew what Afghanis actually look like (they have such diversity of phenotypes) they would face a lot less violence from the country.

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  33. 100% agree with this post and have personally experienced it so many times. My husband (Pakistani, last name Husain), had the unfortunate coincidence of graduating from MBA school in Spring of 2002. He sent out hundreds if not thousands of resumes in the two years that followed. He never got a single call, not one single call for an interview. Even once he started leaving his last name off the resumes, he got a little more response, but not much.

    He has literally had people ask him if he is joking when he tells them his last name. Worst blow (for me at least), was when my racist grandmother asked a few weeks before my son was born if we would consider giving him my last name instead of my husbands, "because it would make life easier for him."

    He has to repeatedly explain to people that he is not Arab, that Pakistan is not in the Middle East, that it is a part of South Asia (which usually requires explaining what countries are generally considered part of South Asia). Sometimes we joke that its like that scene from "King of the Hill," where Hank first meets Kahn and says, "So are you Chinese or Japanese?" Kahn: "I'm Laotian." Hank: "What ocean?" Kahn: "I'm from Laos, Its a country in East Asia." Hank: "So are you Chinese or Japanese?"

    I cried when Barack Hussein Obama was inaguarated not only because of the importance of such a historic moment, but because it gave me hope that my son could maybe one day do whatever he wants and not be held back by people's perceptions of who he is because he is Muslim, or Pakistani-American, or has the last name Husain. (which btw, is a really common name in Muslim countries)

    Meanwhile, the daily barrage of islamophobia and slurs against Muslims of all types is a total beat down. I'm not so upset about it for myself, because as a white convert, who does not wear hijab, I can easily "cover" my Muslim identity. But my husband and son cannot. And none of us should have to.

    Some of the rhetoric following the Ft. Hood shooting has been truly terrifying, for example, Pat Robertson's statement that Muslims should be classified as a political group like fascism or communism, that all Muslims should be kicked out of the military.

    And then these same people say, "all you Muslims need to speak up and repudiate the actions of whatever crazy person did something supposedly in the name of Islam, otherwise we are going to assume that you tacitly approve of what was done."

    Meanwhile, I feel like we are standing in middle of the road, screaming at the top of our lungs that we are against these things 100%, but where is the media to cover that? Because the media didn't cover, it must means we didn't do it, and it makes it easier for the pundits to say inflammatory things and then say that Muslims aren't speaking out (we shouldn't have to, but we do anyway).

    I am so frustrated and fed up with all of this.

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  34. I'm a white, anglo-american convert to Islam. In hijab, I often get questions as to whether I am from Iran or Afghanistan. (Because I am Shi'a those two groups are more greatly represented in the mosques I go to).

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  35. "Interestingly" the census has actually changed post-9/11 and "middle eastern" folks got kicked out of the white club. I read that in a Whiteness Studies class last semester.

    However, for those asking about the census, for the 2000 census this was the criteria for "white": "White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who designate their race as 'White' or report entries such as Irish, German, Australian, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, Polish." Wikipedia


    Great post!

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  36. The US Census needs a complete overhaul. 5 groups to represent the whole world? There should be more distinctions. South Asians, East Asians, Central Asians, Eastern Europeans, Turks, Tatars, Arabs, Mediterranean people... there are so many distinctions. And we shouldn't have just "other/biracial", we should be able to check as many as need be. Latinos don't even get a category, because they could be of any race. Well there are white and black latinos, sure, but how is it that the Native American race magically stops at the Mexican and Canadian border? As if First Nations people only live in Canada and non-white/black latinos don't have a race.

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  37. whatsername -

    To the best of my knowledge, there has not been an "Arab" "Middle Eastern" or anything like it box added for the next census.

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  38. Jillian, that's not what I said, but I can see how it was implied. As we looked at an article in class last semester (which I looked for again but couldn't find) I don't have the information right in front of me, but I do know that post-9/11 there were changes to how Arabs are going to be treated on the census, specifically revolving around their previous unequivocal inclusion in the simply "white" category. Whether they're getting a whole new category or not, I'm not sure, but the first census reports on Arabs specifically started being compiled in 2003, as shown here, which is significant in of itself, imo.

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  39. "And the exclusion of North Africans from being qualified as "African-American" on the census and on scholarship applications (again, they're supposed to check the "white" box) means they're doubly discriminated against: Not really white, but not non-white enough to benefit from certain programs."

    Can someone please provide a citation for this? The Census is self-reported and I've never really heard of a scholarship being denied to someone because they were North African. Also, many people check "other". I'm not saying it couldn't happen, I'd just really like to read more about this and where it's going on.

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  40. Cloudy - The anecdotal examples I have come from friends who've been told by guidance counselors that they're ineligible for scholarships for African-Americans, and friends who've emigrated here and been told to check "white" or "other."

    Even if my facts are slightly off in this case (and I'm not saying they are), the fact is, those checkboxes do completely ignore an entire group of people who do not define themselves as white (and should not be forced to do so).

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  41. For what it's worth, the link I provided earlier does indeed say North Africans are supposed to check "white".

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  42. 'The US Census needs a complete overhaul.' (Cloudy)
    What do you need this 'race' category for anyway? Wouldn't be even legal in my country. Native language, citizenship, country of birth and religious affiliation (if any) are OK, but not 'race'.

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  43. Thank you whatsername (too funny to use that in a sentence!) and apologies if I misconstrued what you said.

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  44. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way!
    These ignorant people simply go around and insult every Muslim they spot! Not all Muslims want to kill.
    In fact,Islam does not even allow killing.

    Those terrorists have strayed from their own religion and because of them,Muslims in general have become a threat to white people??!

    Absurd,I tell you.

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  45. @Eurotrash,
    My understanding is that by including race, we can get a better idea of things like the racial wage gap, if government programs are helping, things like that. The origins of the question were undoubtedly racist, but today it can serve the opposite purpose. At least that's what they say... I'm not totally convinced it does as much good as they say. But if they insist on asking it, they might as well do it right.

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  46. Thank you for link, Whatsername. This whole issue seems to be very muddled.

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  47. I'm a Muslim Somali female and people constantly ask me where I'm from, or make wild and completely wrong guesses as to where they think I might be from. I've been asked if I'm Egyptian, Asian (yes, just Asian), Sudanese, Kenyan and Ethiopian (this one is reasonable since our countries are neighbors and we tend to look similar). Anyway, I was getting into my car once outside my house and was yelled at by a passing driver to "take off the burqa!". I don't even wear a burqa, I wear a hijab, but I suppose some people can't be bothered to learn the difference. I guess the point of my comment is just that I wish people would educate themselves more on the kinds of things you wrote about in your post, so it's cool you're doing your part.

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  48. "The whole "Arabs are white" thing is such a crock."

    Oh please. Why is it such a big deal for an Arab who has a Caucasian phenotype to check "White" on the census? I am an American of Lebanese/Syrian ethnicity. I have extremely Middle Eastern features and dark olive skin. I don't feel I have ever been "discriminated" against (I accept the fact that there are rude xenophobic people everywhere that will not like my looks). I am more than whatever stupid tick box I have to check on a job application or census status and I am more than the flesh that you see. What is this psychopathic hatred you people on this blog have of being classified as "White" and of all things you consider "white" but are actually part of the human condition of every ethnicity, to one silly dysfunctional extent or another? And this burning need to classify a person down to the last "one drop" gene? Wow. Why all the hand-wringing and guilt? Why do you want to instill this guilt in future generations of white children and this thin-skinned, walk on eggshells "minority privilege" sensitivity in people who claim minority status?

    You will tear this country apart with your petty racial nonsense. It is one thing to enlighten people. It is quite another to lash out in manipulative, hateful anger and insist people feel a certain way about something.

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  49. Fewer than 5% of Mukins hold passports.

    Still, in 2010 C.E., close to 50% of Murkins haven't travelled futher than 200 miles from the place of their birth.

    Pedestrian, parochial xenophobes, enabled by a deeply embedded, intransigent racism, armed to the teeth and eager to use 'em...

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  50. Great post, Jill. I'm so proud to know you. ;)

    Perhaps they would be less likely to expect Muslims as a group to speak for one individual Muslim

    AMEN. And maybe they'd also be less likely to expect ONE INDIVIDUAL to speak for the ENTIRE GROUP.

    The ethnicity box on forms drives me nuts. I took A. in for the swine flu vaccine yesterday and had to check THREE boxes on the medical form: White/Asian/"Other." Next to "Other," there was a line, so I just wrote in "Lebanese." Ridonkulous.

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  51. I hate having to choose my ethnicity when filling out forms. I have a choice between Caucasian, African-Amreican, Hispanic, and Asian.

    Well, I'm both latina and caucasian. I feel like I'm denying half of myself when I choose one or the other. Meh.

    I end up choosing Caucasian because I look more caucasian than I do "hispanic" but it drives me nuts. My family in Panama would not approve. Again... meh.

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  52. Elsariel,

    Here's the thing, though. You should check Hispanic because that's what you are. By checking Caucasian, you are saying that you aren't Hispanic. Caucasian is actually reserved for those without any Latino heritage.

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  53. @Leila

    Way to completely miss the point and lose the plot.

    Oh please. Why is it such a big deal for an Arab who has a Caucasian phenotype to check "White" on the census? I am an American of Lebanese/Syrian ethnicity.

    You don't know what purposes censuses serve do you? Why do you think the requirement for a census exists in the constitution? Why do you think black people were partially counted in congressional districts during slavery? Ever since before the Roman Empire, censuses have been about the three "P"s: Power, Privilege, Politics.

    A census is more than a statistical tool, it's a way of allocating interests in the United States. Knowing how many Hispanic voters are out there empowers Hispanics as a voting bloc. Same goes for African Americans and Arab-Americans. You can't deny that the Arab community in the United States has it's own sets of interests and concerns, and being counted as a distinct group is a step towards greater enfranchisement and political involvement- especially with our numbers growing. You forget being Arab (especially distinctly non-white) carries a certain stigma- and if you haven't experienced it yet, then I am happy for you. Why should we accept that stigma and deny ourselves recourse to greater enfranchisement and visibility simultaneously? Checking "White" is like checking "Invisible". You can either learn to control the political machine, or you run the risk of getting steamrolled under it.

    What is this psychopathic hatred you people on this blog have of being classified as "White" and of all things you consider "white" but are actually part of the human condition of every ethnicity, to one silly dysfunctional extent or another?

    You need to lurk more. This blog is run by a white person. The emphasis is on white privilege and how it manifests itself, as well as to highlight how white people can be antiracist despite the privilege, and perhaps turn the dynamic. I'm half-white (though that's functionally an impossibility) so I'll be damned if I have a psychopathic hatred for my kin.

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  54. honeybrown1976 said...

    Caucasian is actually reserved for those without any Latino heritage.


    Really? I didn't know that. I just assumed I was supposed to choose what I look most like. Those things are so frustrating.

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  55. Elsariel, I totally understand. It's all bull, anyway. Does it really add anything to our lives other than constant headaches? Not that I've seen so far.

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  56. honeybrown, "white" is most CERTAINLY NOT reserved for those who "aren't hispanic". Unless it says so (as most forms in California do, for which there is a whole sordid history that pisses me off everytime I have to fill such forms because I, like Elsariel, am a white and "hispanic").

    "Hispanic/Latino" is an ethnicity, not a race. That's why the census was updated in 2000 to reflect this. Latinos can be of any race, or mixture of races.

    And even if that wasn't the official form definition it's absurd to tell someone else how they should identify themselves!

    AND, white Latin@s are rather common. Especially with Mexicans, where many are mestizo (mixed race, white (Spanish) and Native (Indian)) and so some of us come out very white and some of us very dark. Our identifying as white, even as European if our nationality was Mexican but our ethnicity was Spanish, has a LONG history.

    Elsariel, you keep checking whatever you feel is the closest to identifying you. Myself, I have always checked "White (Not Hispanic" (as the forms here look) AND "Hispanic" even when it says "choose one". Because they can't make me choose. :)

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  57. @Elsariel, as a mixed girl both white and POC, this is how I look at the census -- it's for how I politically, not personally, identify. In real life I embrace all parts of my heritage but on the census I ID as POC. Why? Because I get discriminated against as a POC and I want my people to be counted. For example, if I'm the best doctor the hospital interviews and I don't get the job due to race -- it's not b/c they don't like whites -- it's because they don't like POCs. If I ID as POC on the census then the government can say, "Hmmm, 10% of the population is ethnic group A but they're only 1% of the doctors. Injustice is occuring." If I identify as white and a bunch of other mixies do too, then they look at it as, "7% of the population is ethnic group A and they're 1% of doctors. That's nothing to worry about." That's not the greatest example, but do you see what I mean?

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  58. It's so ironic that the US sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to help the people there, essentially Muslims, and yet, those same people are not welcome in America (or even in most western countries that sent troops as well.)

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  59. Annie Miss said...

    "Because I get discriminated against as a POC and I want my people to be counted."


    I can see it from that point of view. I, myself, don't feel like I've ever been discriminated against because of my heritage. (If I have been, I've never recognized it.) Hell, half the time people are surprised to hear I have latina in me at all! Even as a child, my mom always remarked that I have such European features. My last name was a very common Anglo last name so I don't think anyone thought anything of it. Perhaps if my last name was something more spanish then my experience might have been different.

    So, if I choose Caucasian on the form I feel like I'm denying one half of my heritage that I'm fiercely proud of. However, if I choose Hispanic then I feel like I'm trying to pass myself off as a PoC when I've never experienced the hardships and discrimination that my bretheran (my mother, even!) have.

    It's a quandary. I think I'll just do what whatsername does and check both! >_<

    Honeybrown, you're 100% right. Choosing one or the other really doesn't make a difference in my life. I'm still who I am regardless of how they try to pigeon hole me.

    Anyway, I can see this is pretty far off topic so I'll stop derailing this thread now. =P

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  60. Elsariel - When it's a health questionaire, I think it makes sense to be as specific as possible - mind you I'm not an expert, but there are certain diseases/medications and other issues that are related to ethnicity (though obvs not race).

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  61. Nice little Newsweek bit to add to the discussion on essentializing Muslims: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/11/what_the_islamists_and_islamaphobes_dont_want_you_to_know.html

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  62. Whatsername, actually it does state "White (non-Hispanic descent)" on most governmental forms, inside and outside of California. So, I don't understand where you've come to that conclusion. I was referring to what the forms state.

    Also, I know that Hispanic/Latino is an ethnicity, not a race. Thus, why do a double check? If it's an ethnicity encompassing various races, why check more than one?

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  63. You know, I check white too because even though I'm 1/4 Korean, I look white and get treated like I'm white, for the most part. I just don't have the same experience as my full-Korean friends and family. I embrace my Irish-Jewish-Korean heritage, but it just doesn't feel right ticking "other". If they let you check as many as need be, I might, but I feel like I'm getting too technical.

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  64. honeybrown - "why check both"?

    Really?

    Why would I check both when the option presented is "white (not hispanic)"? And then "Hispanic" is another option?

    Because I'm, both...?

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  65. Whatsername, no need for the snarkiness. It's a valid question. I'm not Hispanic/Latino; so, I'm trying to understand the dynamic.

    I am black and white; yet, I check black/African-American, personally and politically. Although I'm both, I don't identify with white since I don't receive any known "honorary white" status nor do I seek it.

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  66. OK, I'll apologize for the snark. Your question sounded like a troll's question to me, I see instead that you truly just don't understand. So, I'm sorry for the attitude.

    Let me break it down for you; when people in this country see you, they see "a Black person". When people in this country see me, like Elsariel, they see "a white person".

    Just as you can't ignore the way you are received by others, I can't ignore it either. I am treated as white by others. And so, I have grown up with the privilege brought along with it. And, I personally identify as white, too. I identify with my Celtic mutt (English, Scottish, Irish) roots just as much as my Mexican roots.

    To just identify as Chicana, all by itself, and to only check "Hispanic" on the form would not represent me as I am anymore than checking "White (Not Hispanic)" does. It would simply be inaccurate, and it feels, for lack of a better word, icky.

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  67. honeybrown1976, let me put it another way for you. Say you have a black man from Cuba. He's black and latino, so he'd want to check both because just checking either latino or black would not really represent who he is and how society views him. There are lots of white latinos, "latino" is not a race unto itself.

    By the way, Native American is actually the proper designation for those latinos with mezoamerican ancestry, but without the option to choose "hispanic" it's not a good fit at all, so many would check "other".

    I hope this helps clear things up, I know the race/ethnicity question is a confusing mess.

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  68. Thanks for this post, Jillian.

    Leila and Cloudy,

    The entire problem with racial designations is that they are fabricated upon outdated, discriminatory norms completely lacking scientific basis. People quote statistics about racial demographics. This is completely bogus mathematically and an abuse of statistics.

    One of three fundamental objects in statistics is the sample space, and this is described using set theory. Sets are rigorously defined in terms of what is and what is not part of the set.

    THERE ARE NO WELL DEFINED RACIAL SETS!!!! STATISTICS SHOULDN'T BE USED IN THIS CONTEXT AT ALL!!!

    Associating a number, such as a percentage, with racial categories implies they exist and are meaningful. These numbers guide social policy and are used at nauseum in debates, yet they are TOTALLY MEANINGLESS!!!

    I'm sorry; as a mathematician, I get very frustrated with the how statistics is constantly abused in the realm of the social sciences.

    Here is a good quote from an Irish mathematician demonstrating this:

    "The average person has one testicle and one breast."

    If you don't define your sample space well, the machinery of statistics can be used to prove ANYTHING.

    I really wish people would stop lending reality to racial categories by discussing them as though they are quantifiable and scientifically-based. The census should be looking at subsets of our population that are quantifiable, such as socio-economic classes.

    Thinking in terms of race = not thinking but emoting

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  69. You know mthgk, the racial categories are technically imaginary, as they're ill-defined and far too broad, but that doesn't stop racism, does it? Just ignoring the terms is not going to change the fact that people will discriminate against those who are different from them. Educating eachother about our differences, how our differences makes us each unique, and how we are all equal, is what helps.

    Also, race is self-reported. No one is forcing anyone into a specific category (at least on the census). If you're 1/8 black, you don't have to check black/other. If you're half-white, you don't have to check white/other. You check what you see yourself as. People are not numbers and static objects, so you will never get a "rigidly defined" population sample. That doesn't mean these results are not useful to social scientists and government programs. Just because race technically doesn't exist, that doesn't mean that there's no real problem when those who identify as non-white consistantly take home less money than their white peers. Sickle-cell anemia doesn't care that there's no such thing as black. The white guy not hiring POC for reasons like their names being too non-western doesn't care that race isn't real.

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  70. Thanks for the clear explanations, Whatsername and Cloudy. It is confusing to think of race and ethnicity when dealing with societal categories. While I've made it simply as possible for myself, I can't imagine what others go through.

    (I'm not new to the site, btw. I don't lurk; but sometimes when so much of the same sentiment has been said, I don't want to sound like a broken record.)

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  71. Cloudy,

    These results are absolutely not useful to government programs. Correlation does not imply causation!!!!!!!!!!

    Just because sickle cell anemia happens to be an illness attributed to people nebulously labeled "Black" doesn't mean race is a good way to approach genetically based treatment programs. There is no strict genetic definition of race.

    Why do people from Africa have sickle cell anemia? Because it helps protect them against malaria. Does that have to do with them being "Black" or having ancestors from the geographical region of Africa? The Afrikaners deemed people from India "Black" in their racist schema. Do Indian's have sickle cell anemia????

    Racism exists, and we cannot ignore it. However, using racist terminology, without qualifying how empty it is, indirectly supports racist thinking.

    We need to talk about racism. I just don't think we should give credence to racist jargon and concepts by incorporating them into debate and analysis as though they are some how meaningful ways to categorize human populations.

    The racist paradigm is an arbitrary social construct, not based in science, and must be addressed as such. Associating percentages with racial categories indirectly supports a racist paradigm by linking them with math and science.

    This is a big problem.

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  72. Also, I am in no way advocating that we "ignore terms". I advocate dissecting these terms every time people use them. I advocate excluding racist categories from social analysis in the sense of using them to define population demographics for the purpose of a census.

    Can we use statistics to demonstrate the impact of racism on certain people?

    Perhaps, but this would have to be done VERY carefully so that the study doesn't inadvertently imply some scientific basis for race. It would have to be couched in more qualitative terms such as how people in a particular society perceive race.

    As you might see, such studies would be messy. At least they would be more rigorous and not implicitly uphold racist notions that are not scientifically or mathematically sound.

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  73. mthgk - In terms of health, I absolutely agree with you - ethnicity should figure into health care, because of things such as sickle cell anemia, however "race" is totally abstract and in health scenarios, simply doesn't apply. Unfortunately, most African-Americans have little access to records of their ethnicity - I know that's not why "Black" came about, but in some ways (e.g., health) that's why it continues to be useful.

    I also agree that race categories make sense in terms of things like the census because they do help communities be represented. And as unreal as race is, the ramifications of its existence are obviously very real and in some ways, very important.

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  74. Britain DOES have similar incidents. Google Jean Charles de Menendez. A Brazilian shot because he looked Muslim=terrorist. No one was held accountable.

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  75. THIS POST HAS BEEN REBLOGGED ON Muslimness.com = http://bit.ly/4VZbmP
    AND MUXLIM.COM
    =http://blogs.muxlim.com//Muslimness/stuff-white-people-do-mistake-greeks-for-arabs-arabs-for-muslims/

    Thank you Macon!

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  76. I have to say, everything in this article is true. It would almost be funny, were it not for the fact that this sort of discrimination and prejudice is so wide spread.

    Yes, many Americans cannot tell the difference between "Arab" and "Muslim."

    Yes, pricks like Robert Spencer, Michelle Mallkin and Mark Steyn have made a fortune shoving racism and bigotry down the publics throat.

    And yes, most of these trained Islamophobes will claim its not racism "because Islam isn't a race."

    This guy... assaulting a Greek Priest because he thought he was Muslim? That's dangerous. How can anyone like that be allowed to serve in the military in the first place? According to what I've read he also has quite the record for violence.

    I fear he will get off with a slap on the wrist for this and that's bad. What will happen when he sees a women wearing the hijab in public? Will he assault her too? This guy deserves to be put behind bars for a looong time.

    Anyone remember Sahar Al-Muwsawi? You should. She was ASSAULTED by anti-Muslim bigots after the Oklahoma City Bombing and miscarried. The pro-lifers in the right wing crowd won't mention that. And it turned out a white Christian did the attack. But you'll never here noted racist Steve Emerson admit to that. Her unborn child was MURDERED by trailer trash bigots... disgusting. I can only hope there is a special place in hell for them.

    As for the North Africans being "white"? I've experienced that too. I'm (part) North African and my aunt was actually born in Libya (IN THE MIDDLE OF AFRICA!) but was told she didn't count as African-American.

    The fact is the way Americans record race is kind of silly. It assumes that all people are only one race and places more emphasis on speaking Spanish (whether someone is "white non-hispanic" or "black non-hispanic"). Yet Arabs, Persians, South Asians and others are marginalized or ignored. Some might argue intentionally. And all Asians and Pacific Islanders are lumped together? Yet Koreans do not look like Samoans, Bangladeshis, Filipinos or Kazakhs! For that matter, where do Australian Aborigines fit onto the chart? Or Gypsies?

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  77. Also - sorry to double post but...

    I doubt you'll find many Zoroastrian Arabs. Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion and no longer accepts converts. You have to be born into it... meaning you would be ethnically Persian though not necessarily Iranian. There is actually a sizable Zoroastrian population out in Bombaby who are called Parsees (ie Persians).

    That said... historically certain Arab tribes allied with the Sassanid Persians were known to have been influenced by Zoroastrianism in as much as that it was the Persian state religion. Others like the Ghassanids and Banu Kinda were Christians due to Byzantine and Syrian influences.

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  78. smculture, ethnicity, mentalhealthNovember 24, 2009 at 10:41 AM

    Generalizations are widely employed when the topic of race, ethnicity and religion are brought to light. Not only do broad statements allow for some cognitive dissonance from our own internal prejudices, but by distancing ourselves from truths, such as the fact that Muslims come in all colors and ethnicities, allows us to only fear or express unease about a specific group of individuals. Generalizations, it seems, have become a widely used defense mechanism.

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  79. I think many people misunderstand the term, African-American. It was a political statement referring to those American-born descendants of African slaves. Thus, unless you are/were a member of said group, no, you wouldn't qualify.

    Therefore, if you are Caribbean or otherwise, it would make sense that you wouldn't be labeled as such.

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  80. Zakariya - I didn't mean to imply there are Zoroastrian Arabs - I was just saying they get lumped in with the "Middle Eastern" label (and, yes, the Parsis! Freddie Mercury was a Parsi!)

    Honeybrown - I know the origins of "African-American" but the term has evolved and is now used discriminately; it does NOT make sense that only the descendant of a slave can be labeled "African-American" and is in fact exclusionary to later willful immigrants from the African continent (all of it).

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  81. every think that you could be overly sensitive? or maybe you just are subconsciously racist yourself therfor everything that someone other then "poc" say has an underlying condescending tone?.. fact is everyone is racist we all stick together its a trible thing , human nature, men hang out with men talk smack about women, vice versa , i have herd many black people say if they try and... i will pull the race card and get them all in trouble.. stop complaining to hell wiht all the political correctness, who cares anything can be veiwed a million different ways. oh and 1 more thing as long as you label yourself a person of color then your going to be labeled , either your an american or not , African american is bullshit unless you were born in africa then gained citizenship status and live here , either you an american or your not making a sub class only breeds such thinking and creation of cliqs--- im an american native american actualy , blacks stop complaining you were slaves they killed us off and we got a dry ass desert. i think things should be a little harder for blacks they are getting there way as long as they place a race card

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  82. can I also add.. mistake any brown person for being either hindu or moslem. Because thats all we can be. Either Hindu or Moslem and nothing else. And that they are shocked when they find out Im neither.
    *rolls eyes*

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  83. Stuck in TennesseeJanuary 7, 2010 at 7:57 PM

    i am a Greek-American who moved to Murfreesboro , TN.

    from Chicago, and basically have to deal with mispreceptions and bogus accusations that i am an arab, or look like a terrorist or whatever. At a company party, a Southern man humiliated me by saying, that i'm not from the North, but from Guantanamo Bay, in front of everyone. I've been called every racist slur geared towards arabs in the book in my time here, and im not even an arab or whatever. Ignorance is bliss, but it's impossible to explain to people that i am only a Greek-American. It's effected my life in every aspect. I came to TN for work out of college in troubled economic times 2 years ago, and i knew that TN would not be as welcoming, but now i have proof that the sick judgement exists. Everywhere i go in town, people just stare me down. It's a horrible feeling, and i basically can't leave the house sometimes or go out as often, in fear for my life. All because of a stupid preception. I even was thinking to change my greek name entirely to a more English sounding one.

    none the less, in the more conservative areas of America, its best to just stay in the big cities. Much safer.

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  84. Sounds bad, Stuck. I hope you can find a way out of what sounds like a nasty little place in terms of race. I also hope, of course, that something turns down the fires of anti-Arab/Muslim xenophobia in the U.S. (which isn't even your own struggle!).

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  85. THANK YOU! I'm so glad there are people who REALISE things like this. Being raised in London myself, there've been the odd (well, okay, frequent, but no one likes talking about racism over our lunch breaks) attack/prejudice on Muslims- but I really had no idea it was this bad in the US...makes me glad I'm in England.

    The one thing that seem to cause the thought Muslim=Terrorist in peoples minds is this:
    People seem to think they know other peoples religions better than the people who actually practice it.
    I mean, seriously, in how many, I ask, HOW MANY comment pages have we seen a Muslim say killing innocents and forcing people to become Muslim/pray/cover/etc. are both forbidden in Islam, only for some non-Muslim to post before/after that that Islam is a terrorist's religion or something similar.
    And, of all the ridiculous things, a lot of people believe the claims of a non-Muslim who's probably never even seen a Quran in real life, over the claims of a Muslim who's taught and practices Islam.
    It. Is. Bloody. Ridiculous.

    But, really, thankyou so much for this post. I'm glad non-Muslims are aware of this and can speak up about it!!

    Another thing I'd like for you to consider if you've got the time:
    Muslims who've been attacked verbally or physically by islamophobes or otherwise do develope a phobia of sorts about expressing their religion. I mean, even I've felt terrified after telling my penpal- who I consider as one of my BEST FRIENDS, mind you- that I'm a Muslim, just instinctively tensing up and waiting for the slurs to come at me. It's taken me a good year or two and _lots_ of support and lectures from my non-Muslim friends to realize that stating my religious beliefs isn't something I should be afraid of- but that's how it always feels like, in every single country.
    I'm not exaggerating about that either. Sadly enough, even so-called Islamic countries have their large share of hypocrites and violent islamophobes. One woman's husband got thrown in jail in Afghanistan because he had a _beard_. He also died in there, leaving a three kids, a baby and a widow. And, surprise surprise, this was only known by her friends and family.
    Or, let's look at my home country- Turkey. It's thought of as 'Islamic', but women with head scarfs are thrown out of every University, Islamic marriages are forbidden and Imams who carry them out hunted down via police, young girls who cover their hair are thought of as foreigners and there's a good amount of Islamophobes in the population too.
    And even Saudi Arabia!! Don't let all those women in burkas fool you. A family friend was on a plane from Saudi Arabia to Australia, and guess what she saw?
    People come onto the plane, Muslim-looking men with beards and women wearing burkas. The plane takes off. Despite men sitting right next to or across them, the women then take _off_ their burkas, showing make-up caked faces, mini-skirts and revealing fabrics you can barely call shirts. Men are taking off their turbans or head wear, laughing and ordering wine, which is haram(forbidden) to drink. This continues. Then, the plane is about to land- and the drinks are put away, burkas put back on.
    It's sad and disgusting, but my Mother says this often:
    "It's not Islam that's wrong. It's the people who claim to practice it."

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