Mar 24, 2013

Arab is Not the New Black

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.

Remembering the Stateless Women

Writing this post on the International Women’s Day, I thought of speaking about stateless women. I feel obligated to make the disclaimer that those ‘international days’ are indeed problematic to practice as they further ‘other’ all those ‘celebrated’ groups. In other words: Why would we discuss women issues and celebrate their struggle, if we do so every day?

Those days highlight the irony of our realities in relation to gender issues. However, I will use this ‘ritual day’ to speak of stateless women. By stateless women, I do not only mean women I grew up around as a stateless person from Kuwait, but also other stateless women around the world. This includes Kurdish and Palestinian women in the region, and also women in refugee camps around the world.
Around the Arab world, the middle class women leading women rights movements are still obsessed with integrating themselves into the body of citizenhood. Considering how most of women rights movements started with fighting for voting rights, women issues have been centered on the system and regulations.