On the job application that I filled out 30 years ago, Arabs and people of Middle-Eastern descent were included in the box under “white.”
Lots of Arabs didn’t mind that and enjoyed the ride of white privilege at least on paper. In the good old days, that is before the 9/11 tragedy, which changed the Americans’ psyche toward Arabs and Muslims forever, Arabs thought of themselves as invisible, and racism and racial profiling were just Black issues, not theirs.
The issue of Arabs and African identity is still a sad reality even though lots of Arabs with darker skin live all over the Arab world, such as Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and the Sudanese are all Black. But this could be considered more geographic bigotry than racism. In the U.S., 9/11 has changed everything –changed the complexity of skin color and racism in the Arab American community; racial profiling and discrimination have risen substantially as have the assaults on Arabs and Muslims.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim American advocacy group, studies from the American Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Department of Justice, among others, have shown that there has been a sharp increase in anti-Muslim sentiment from politicians, an increase of anti-Muslim activities, an increase of opposition to mosques, and an increase in the activity and number of anti-Muslim hate groups since 9/11.
Arabs/Muslim post 9/11 are now suffering what Africans-Americans have been suffering for long time. This reality has forced new federal policing rules that will expand protections against racial and ethnic profiling to include gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
With the latest events in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, Baltimore and other major American cities, the frequent killing of unarmed Black men by white police officers with few indictments or charges, now Arab-Americans feel the same pain, the same injustice and frustration. In general, Arab-Americans trust the police but they have begun to doubt and question the job of the police to protect and serve. As a Black activist said of police brutality to Black men, “You can’t protect people you hate.”
With protests against police brutality erupting all over major cities, Arab-Americans feel for the first time that this is their fight too, and that they aren’t white anymore. Now Arab and Muslim-Americans can be seen in every protest taking part in the demand for justice. I went to cover a recent protest here in south Minneapolis, which shut down I-35W for a short time, capturing national and international news. People warned me and asked me to be careful, but for an Egyptian-American who attended three one-million-man marches in Tahrir Square in 2011, and has been observing police brutality in Egypt for the last three-and-a half years, nothing can deter me or surprise me about police behavior anymore.
Ahmed Tharwat is Host Arab American TV show BelAhdan which Airs on tpt, Mondays at 10:30pm. Blogs at www.ahmediaTV.com