I was only seven years when I realized the racial differences in Kuwait in 1995. I had not even started elementary school then. It was then that a friend of mine left Kuwait for Palestine. I did not know exactly what was happening at the time since I was still young. However, I still remember that my sister missed school a few days. My mother did not even allow me to go outside to play with other children. During those days, Palestinians were being sent back to their land. My parents did not talk much about it but I remember it was sad when my friend left.
I remember occurrences of racism as well. My parents and I had gone on a trip to some place. I don’t remember exactly where. When my parents and I went to the mosque to pray there, we found a white man who was praying with us. When he sat at someone’s chair ahead of us, that person moved a bit. Then, somehow, he became comfortable. I still remember that my parents talked about it with a bitter taste in their mouth after we had prayed and left. I realized that it mattered not to be an Arab or a Kuwaiti.
I have been in the US over the past 2 years. The first day I came to the US was tense for me. Being an Arab in the USA is not easy. I felt like everyone was discriminative when dealing with me. I thought that even the checking at the airport was more for me than for other travellers. I only got the second taxi to take me to the hotel day. Again I felt like it was discriminative rather than, as the taxi man told me, the excuse that he was already engaged.
Arabs are mostly Muslim. The biggest population in Kuwait is Arab and Muslim at the same time. They are different from other people in many ways including dressing, beliefs, and even how they bring up their children.
Among the Arabs, being an Arab is a great thing. It only feels weird once you are surrounded by so many other people who don’t even trust you. Arabs are very close to each other whenever they are in any community. They have a form of communal livelihood and every person feels they should respect each other. Amongst our beliefs, is the belief that every day we should be friendly to those we do not know. Even the greetings that are done by Arabs are those of wishing each other peace. Not just among Arabs, but also to others.
There are many ways I can tell the story of my life. First, I was brought up in a family of five, my two parents, my brother, my sister and I. We went to the same elementary school; almost together. I went to a different high school from others in my family. This is where I learned swimming. I liked soccer too. When I left high school, I joined the national swimming team with which I am still a member. There are so many things to say about my life without just talking about ethnicity. Regardless of all the situations I have come across as an Arab, I still have most of my friends being non-Arab Americans.
The racial identity is superior with us, the Arabs. We have a feeling of belonging and whenever we tell our stories, there are two aspects we don’t forget to talk about; our race and our religion. We identify very well with being Arabs. The fact, however, is that we look different too and our culture makes us stand out in the crowd. The way we dress looks different too. It is also a good idea to be honest with others.
Most of our ancestors live in Arabic countries like Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, and Syria. Our families have not travelled far from the Middle East for as long as I know. Both my parents were brought up in Kuwait. I was born there too. Very few of them have even visited the US. My community is mostly associated with cattle keeping. Agriculture is very rare among us. The soil is also not very good for farming and the weather does not support farming. The little farming that takes place in Kuwait is associated, mostly, with foreigners and is irrigated farming.
Having been predominantly brought up in town, there was little ethnic heritage within our family. My parents however used to travel every once in a while to visit my grandfather in the countryside. It never felt like such a big connection to me. When, one day, we went with them, my grandfather touched my head and blessed me. It was the first time I visited him. He also gave me a goat but we never took it with us to town as we did not have space for such privileges. When we talk with him on the phone every once in a while, he tells how many goats I now have. He once suggested that I should go there and see them. Even slaughter one.
My immediate family does not talk much about ethnicity. I however recall a few exchanges with my extended family that showed concern for me whenever I had to travel outside the country to non-Arab countries for sports. Some often thought I was too close to other races in my job. It felt to me like they were more concerned about my safety. They did not trust that the world was safe enough for me.
When I joined the national swimming team four years ago, I had difficulty dealing with other non-Arabs. This was however, related to what I had heart about the hatred between us and other communities. Since then, however, I have come to see race and ethnicity as mere differences. They should not make any differences among us. I have even had to live with people we have no racial connection for days. Every association with them eventually brings us closer.
Since the bombing of 11th September, 2011, discrimination has been on the rise especially against Arabs. This has especially been so for the Iraqis but it has led to discrimination against all Muslims. There have even been Christian Arabs who have suffered from discrimination as well. Arabs have actually been stereotyped with activities of terrorism in general. Every Arab feels at least a little uncomfortable among strangers especially when they don’t have friends among them.
Ethnicity and racism against Arabs is a major issue. It affects many children who experience it early. I think my race will continue to affect my life in different ways. It will, for example, be more difficult for me to get a job in the US. Living among some communities in the US may also be difficult as I may be a victim of violence.
I have a feeling that the demographic changes currently going on in the US will have a positive impact on racism. The US population is going to be more receptive to foreigners as people continue to associate with each other and make friends. However, there is also likelihood that current demographic changes will increase racism and ethnicity. The current communication may at some point feel threatened by immigrants, thereby, increasing discrimination.
Certain extremes of racism make it more visible than others. Direct discrimination against Arabs and the general Muslim has made it more conspicuous in the community. This includes situations are withheld or when violence is involved.
However, there are situations where my being Arab has been beneficial. I belong to an acting group in which I only play the parts that involve Arabs. This has given me a platform to air my opinions in regard to discrimination as this is a very common topic in acting. It has also helped me in getting more friends and even learn more about America and the world.
In conclusion, while racism has been a major issue in my life, it has also been a platform for me to grow on. The major differences have been due to association of terrorism with Arabs and the extremism of the Muslims. I have however been able to get access to situations where I can grow myself and earn a good living. A good example is my involvement in the national swimming team.
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