We Arabs Are In The News… Even When We’re Not!

At first glance, it may have seemed that we Arabs were not that present in the news this week.  Syria was mostly out of the headlines, the Palestinians and Israelis are in their secret cove somewhere negotiating, and the rest of the Arab world was relatively quiet.

But if you watch the news the way we Arabs watch the news, you would realize that we never get a day off.  We are there even when it seems we aren’t.

On Monday morning, we all woke up to the horrific news of the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.  We watched as news outlets told us there were three shooters, then two shooters, then one, and he was dead.  And in case you wonder why you didn’t hear from any of your Arab friends until that afternoon, it was because we were all sitting in front of the TV, shaking our heads, quietly mumbling to ourselves, “Please don’t be Arab.  Please don’t be Muslim.  Please don’t be anything that looks like Arabs or Muslims.  Please.”

Well, he wasn’t an Arab.  He was an African-American named Aaron Alexis, a former member of the United States Navy.  He had a high-level security clearance, and entered the Navy Yard lawfully where he was working as a contractor.  It was later discovered that he had been arrested in 2010 for discharging his gun, treated for mental problems, and prescribed anti-depressants as recently as last month.  His security clearance was never revoked or re-investigated.  This was clearly the case a senseless tragic shooting where the individual responsible had fallen through the cracks of a stretched system.

So when it became utterly clear who the DC Navy Yard shooter was, I was relieved.  I was relieved that he was not Arab or Muslim.  And I felt like a bad person for feeling that way.

I was ready to turn off the TV and get on with the rest of my day.  And then it happened.  CNN and other news outlets started quoting law enforcement personnel, government officials, and analysts.  They were all telling us that there was “no evidence that this was an act of terrorism.”  And that’s when I knew that rest of my day was going to be lousy.

I watch the news a lot.  I am somewhat of a professional.  And I have come to know that “no evidence that this was act of terrorism” really translates into “no evidence that Arabs or Muslims had anything to do with this.”

And there we were, in a news story that has absolutely nothing to do with us other than the fact that everyone had to be told that it had absolutely nothing to do with us.  That’s the way it works for us.  Even when it wasn’t us, they have to tell everyone that it wasn’t us.

And since the DC Navy Yard shooting was “not an act of terrorism” (see translation above), its news cycle was short.  By Tuesday afternoon, we had moved on.

And that wasn’t my only non-encounter encounter with the news this week.

Nina Davuluri became this year’s Miss America last Sunday night.  She is the pageant’s first winner of Indian descent.  Immediately, the Twitterverse lit up like the Fourth of July.  And much of it was not very nice:

How is miss America Indian? This is America… Not India.
Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11.
More like Miss Terrorist.
Miss America right now or miss Al Qaeda?

Those are just mean.

I swear I’m not racist but this is America.

This one was not too surprising.  Racists never think that they are racist.  They need to be told.

Then we got to the really special ones.

How the f*** does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab!
And the Arab wins Miss America. Classic.

Now, I am Arab, and I can tell you, there is nothing “classic” about us winning anything.

Even Miss America has been outsourced to India.

Ok, that one was funny.

Now, Nina is not an Arab, and she is not a Muslim.  She is an Indian, and she is a Hindu.  And news outlets were quick to point all of this out.  They screamed from the mountaintops, “This is so unfair to Nina! She is not an Arab! She is not a Muslim!”

It reminded me of when John McCain was running for president in 2008.  At a rally in Minnesota, one of his supporters came to the microphone and told the crowd that she could not trust Barack Obama because he was “an Arab.”  McCain quickly interjected, “No ma’am, he is a decent family man.”

And so there we were again, in a news story that had nothing to do with us until the racists misidentified their target as one of us, and then everyone corrected the racists.

I guess I should look on the bright side.  It’s kind of like we have a magical power to appear in news stories that we don’t actually appear in.  Who else can say that?

No one wants to be an Arab if they don’t have to.  And I can’t blame them.  It’s tough.  The food is great, but that hardly makes up for everything else.  We are the only group that you can still say racist things about and get away with it.  Who would want to be one of us?

When people first look at me, they can’t always figure out where I’m “from from.”  They might say, “Are you Greek, Italian, Puerto Rican, Asian?”  I say, “Asian, really? You guessed Asian?”  They never guess Arab. That would be insulting.

So, Nina, I know what it feels like to be misidentified.  But my world is different.

It’s bad enough to be mistaken for something that you’re not.  But it’s even worse to be the thing that no one wants to be mistaken for.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. A great quote
    Its bad enought to be mistaken for something you are not,but its even worse to be the thing no one wants to be mistaken for!
    Impressive job Sir.

  2. Good commentary mr. Zahr.
    But why isn’t this regarded as a terrorist act?
    Gunmen killing, spreading terror is ok as long as they’re not Arab or Muslim?

    And I feel bad for Miss America, but I’m glad social media exposes all the racists.

  3. I enjoyed this article. I’m an American woman with an Arab father and a white mother. I have a lot of my dad’s features, and look “different.” Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I say Michigan. If they press it, I tell them my dad is from Lebanon. Lately, I’ve changed the answer though. Now I say “I’m Arab, you know, the one that’s never listed as a race, when you’re filling out forms?” This packs a much better punch if you say it with the right tone because I’m answering their question, and also getting the person to think about that for a second. I follow it up with a quick “you know, like Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander….” I’ll pause for emphasis, and then say – “Do you think that was a mistake?” or “That’s because we don’t exist.” (big eye roll) But I try never to leave it there….I usually say “we’re working on that” and smile. WE, being the operative word. That’s right. Me and the person who asked the question, WE.

  4. Your muslim terrorist relative are doing you a great disservice by their conduct. I don;t suppose you can do much about that being they will probably kill you too for interfearing. We have sort of th same problem in the Christian community except we usually dont kill each other .

    • I’m sorry David, which terrorist relatives of Amer’s are you referring to? I share in Amer’s family tree and I am not aware of any terrorists in our tree.
      I don’t suppose you are very well educated and I don’t suppose you are older than maybe twelve. I don’t suppose I understand why I’m even engaging in conversation with someone as ignorant as yourself.
      I guess I took the bait. Joke’s on me.

    • Christian usually dont kill each other ?? how about these school shootings: Here a partial List of school-related attacks
      Name Location Date Year Number of deaths Perpetrator fate
      Bath School disaster – Bath Township, Michigan
      May 18 1927 45 Deaths Shooter Killed wife before bombing at school; committed suicide.

      University of Texas massacre – Austin, Texas
      August 1, 1966 16 Deaths Killed his wife and mother before shooting at the school; shot dead by police and armed citizens
      California State University, Fullerton massacre – Fullerton, California
      July 12 1976 7 Deaths Surrendered; committed to treatment for mental disorder
      Cleveland School massacre – Stockton, California
      January 17 1989 6 Deaths Committed suicide
      University of Iowa shooting – Iowa City, Iowa
      November 1 1991 6 Deaths Committed suicide
      Columbine High School massacre – Littleton, Colorado
      April 20 1999 15 Deaths Both committed suicide
      Red Lake Senior High School massacre – Red Lake, Minnesota
      March 21 2005 8 Deaths Killed grandfather and companion before shootings at school; committed suicide
      Amish school shooting – Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania
      October 2 2006 6 Deaths Committed suicide after siege
      Virginia Tech massacre – Blacksburg, Virginia
      April 16 2007 33 Deaths Committed suicide
      Northern Illinois University massacre – DeKalb, Illinois
      February 14 2008 6 Deaths Committed suicide
      Oikos University shooting – Oakland, California
      April 2 2012 7 Deaths Surrendered after siege
      Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting – Newtown, Connecticut
      December 14 2012 27 Deaths Killed mother before mass shooting at school; committed suicide
      and so on

  5. There is something that us Arabs need to learn, today there exists is no such ethnicity as “Arab”. It’s a language, Ok, maybe some of the eastern nomadic cultures can claim an ancestry to the original Arab tribes but generally Arab is just our common language. Technically it is a pseudo-ethnicity and kindly called a pan-ethnicity.

    Further, Muslim and Arab are not synonymous. It’s a belief, like christian, Jew and Hindu. There are a lot of Arab speaking muslims. But, many of them speak french and english and really many now have english as their first language if not second.

    Pseudo (pan) ethnicities facilitate fascism. I am Palestinian because I was born in the land of the Palestinians. Though my blood line does not have the original Philistine heritage, by virtue of the land, I am Palestinian. Israeli’s today are likewise Palestinian. As they were in the 1st Century when they were were referred to by the Roman occupiers as Palestinians. With the rise of Christianity, they then became known as either Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Chrisitans, even Jewish Christians (to identify them from the Greek speaking Chrisitians) in the Christian Bible. Speaking of holy books, the first Jewish talmud was actually originally called the Palestinian Talmud by the 1st Century Jews who identified themselves as Palestinians.

    As Palestinians, we have a lot to unlearn and really learn about our own heritage. The occupations we have endured from the Greeks, Romans, Eastern Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans, British and now Eastern European and American Fascist Jews, have wrongly informed our history and identity.

    We are a unique peoples who come from a storied land. We are the children of occupations and wars. But most of all we are humans who have been forged by foreign ambitions throughout the centuries. And, the miracle is, as a people, we have chosen peace and family over war. Are naivety is born from the desire to believe that in the end humanity will give in to that most human quality. Our disappointment is not our own, but a judgement of the character of our occupiers.

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