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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being…

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America

by Moustafa Bayoumi

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1285133,750 (4.18)24



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This is the common reading for incoming students at my university for the Fall of 2013. The author writes biographical profiles of about half a dozen Arab-Americans who live in Brooklyn, New York and how their lives changed in the wake of 9/11. The young people who served in the military had especially interesting profiles, I thought. This book shows how pervasive racism is in the U.S. ( )
  mojomomma | Jul 30, 2013 |
Excellent collection of portraits of young Arab-Americans who are subjected to discrimination and idiginities because of their religious beliefs. The perseverence of these young people is inspiring. This book resonates all the more now with the virulent Islamophobia that is pervasive all over the country these days. Bayoumi approaches his subject as W.E.B DuBois did in The Souls of Black Folk. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
This is a moving collection of the challenges and opportunities experienced by the Arab youth in America. Whether immigrants or US born, they face unique situations as youth in the US.
  psumesc | Sep 7, 2011 |
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  MsPibel | Mar 3, 2010 |
To start off I feel I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that this is most definitely a laymen's perspective. I have never studied race relations or sociology in any sort of academic setting, nor have I read a lot of books on the subject. I just heard about this book on the radio, thought it sounded interesting, and ordered it from the library.

The book is a compilation of seven portraits of young Arab-Americans or Muslim Americans living in Brooklyn. I feel like the author did a good job gathering a variety of perspectives in spite of the limited geographic location. One person is angry and can't wait to leave America behind for the hope of a better life in Dubai. Another feels that every ethnic group suffers a certain period of persecution in America, and this is just their turn. The levels of trouble vary as well, from a young woman's stint in jail due to an overstayed visa, to a man's difficulty in finding a job with 'Al Jazeera' on his resume, to another woman's difficulty in reconciling her Iraqi heritage and American upbringing. My favorite portrait in the book was that of Yasmin, a high school girl who was forced to step down from her post as secretary of the student body because her religion did not permit her to attend school dances. Her determination in addressing the unfairness of the situation was admirable, and made for a wonderful story (and one of the more hopeful anecdotes).

My only real complaint is that I felt the author's prose got a bit self-indulgent at times. My personal laugh-out-loud favorite was, "The soldier walked into the TV room and slipped the disk into the DVD player, which disappeared like a Communion wafer into the machine's mouth" (73). Is he really trying to suggest that Michael Moore's 9/11 movie (the DVD in question) was, to these soldiers in Iraq, akin to a Catholic becoming one with God? Because that's not only strange, but doesn't even match the attitude of the soldiers that he describes towards the movie, which was ambivalent overall. Even those who felt the movie was correct were hardly reverent. If the author could have cut down on the silly metaphors, I think it would have been a better book. ( )
  legxleg | Oct 5, 2008 |
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"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying it directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word."
--W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
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Sade and four of his twenty-something friends are at a hookah café almost underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn.
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The story of how young Arab and Muslim Americans are forging lives for themselves in a country that often mistakes them for the enemy. Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America's new "problem"-Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Bayoumi takes readers into the lives of seven twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States. He moves beyond stereotypes and clichs to reveal their often unseen struggles, from being subjected to government surveillance to the indignities of workplace discrimination. Through it all, these young men and women persevere through triumphs and setbacks as they help weave the tapestry of a new society that is, at its heart, purely American. -- Publisher Description.… (more)

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