We Arab Americans are in the midst of a civil rights movement. Profiling and discrimination are rampant. We are victims of debasement in the media on a daily basis. While we can find similarities between our struggle and the struggles of other minority groups, our situation is a bit more distinctive.
While the African American struggle, the Latino struggle, and other ethnic or racial minority struggles may have been predominantly defined by one element, whether it be bigotry, immigration, intolerance, or xenophobia, our Arab American struggle seems to be defined by all of those things at once. In that sense, although it may seem like discrimination against Arab Americans is some combination of many components, it is actually about none of them in particular. In other words, while those who see it fit to hate might find specific reasons to hate some other groups, they will find any reason to hate us. We, for whatever reason, possess some special ability to be hated as a result of just about any motivation. It’s not nearly as cool as it sounds.
Our Arab American problem is unique. It is not one of poverty. It is not one of racism. It is not one of undocumented immigrants. No, our problem is one of identity. It is one of belonging. It is an issue of becoming comfortable in our own skin. It is a matter of doing away with that fear of being seen as unpatriotic. It is a question of getting our fellow Americans of ceasing to see us not simply as different, or even as inferior, but as a danger. I’ve often said that a white couple taking a walk might cross the street when a few black or Latino kids come their way because they fear those kids might steal their wallets. But they cross when we’re coming their way for a completely different reason. They see us a threat to their way of life, to their freedom, to their existence.
No other person could understand this. Well, I should rephrase. No other person could understand this, unless he or she was gay. Yes, that’s right. Arab Americans and gay Americans are both fighting for the same thing: to be seen as human beings.
Arabs and gays remain the two groups against whom open bigotry is still completely acceptable. The days are long gone when a politician could openly spew hatred against African Americans and still remain in office. But voice disapproval of gays, Arabs, or Muslims, and you might win the next election.
And let us not forget, of course, the obvious fact that gays and lesbians exist in our community. Can we really ask American society to treat us with respect and equality if we are not extending the same (and much more) to some of our own brethren? We should openly accept and love everyone in our community. And have you seen how some of these Arab American women have been decorating their gaudy houses for years? They could use some help.
The gay rights movement is in the same stage as ours. We should not miss this opportunity to stand right in the middle of their struggle to be accepted as human beings, as we are striving for exactly the same thing. One day we might ask them to return the favor.
And for you Arab Americans out there, the next time you see two Arab men walking down the street holding hands, remember, they might be just be fighting more than one battle.