Having lived in upstate New York for the past two years, racial discrimination has become the center of my life. Back in Kuwait, the discrimination I faced as a stateless individual was harsh, but different. In the US, I’m either discriminated against for looking like a Latina, meaning “an immigrant who is taking THEIR jobs,” or as an Arab and Muslim, meaning a potential terrorist or a victimized brown woman who escaped hell.
In Kuwait, legal procedures were my nightmare, but I faced stereotypes, rejections, and police harassment. I’ve written before about the legal and everyday discrimination that a stateless person faces in Kuwait, so my aim here is to focus on my recent experiences in New York.
For the first part of my residency as a student here, I tried to escape the labels imposed upon me. However, after several incidents of discrimination in public places, sometimes by police, I felt I was forced into those labels. Here, I am not stateless or Kuwaiti or just an Arab Muslim. Most importantly, I am an immigrant woman of color. This is the reality for me, and I can only negotiate within this frame. Accepting this reality has helped me see through tensions around me.
At some point, my accumulated anger was triggered by any comment on languages, gender assumptions, and generalizations. Although this anger feels healthy and legitimate to me, it was unbearable. Looking at other experiences came as a possible solution. Reading about the experiences of other communities of color in the US can show us how discrimination (in all forms) is systematic. The propaganda and political discourses only sustain stereotypes.
I recently read Hamid Dabashi’s book Brown Skin, White Masks which takes on Fanon’s famous work Black Skin, White Masks on race and colonialism. Dabashi does a wonderful job tracing how the American media react to “brown people,” meaning Arabs and Muslims. Simply, Dabashi claims that Arabs are the new Blacks and Muslims are the new Jews. One could easily buy into this, but I found the claim problematic. I actually find it dangerous.
To believe that the system is replacing Black with Arab is to believe that Blacks are enjoying a relatively better status and less discrimination. If one follows well, Blacks are still living under worst economic conditions, facing police violence, and filling up jails. To say that Arab is the new Black creates a hierarchy of the oppressed and can make them think discrimination is not systematized.
Attending a recent forum on racism at the university I attend, students were asked to share their experiences. All those who spoke were young, in their late teens and early twenties, black, and many had been attacked by passersby in the streets. They were all referred to as ugly, called B****** or N******, and told to go back to Africa.
Having noted this, I do not like to conform to any scale that speaks of who is the most oppressed because this can only lead to negative outcomes. We need to think of oppression as systemized. Fighting over the role of the most victimized is surely taking us nowhere. Arab is not the new Black, and Black is not the only oppressed.