Just over a century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois posed a thought-provoking question in his acclaimed work, “The Souls of Black Folk”: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same question about a new “problem” in the United States – and he turns to seven young Arab Americans for answers.
America has a regrettable history of singling out large groups of people and labeling them as outcasts. From the horrors of slavery to the mistreatment of Native Americans and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, racism and cultural biases have been allowed and even sanctioned by fellow citizens and the government. In his book, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?”, Bayoumi introduces us to a group of young Arab Americans who have become the newest suspect class in the United States. Following the 2001 terror attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they went from being merely invisible to being viewed with suspicion and actively pursued.
Set in Brooklyn, New York, the book sheds light on the often-overlooked struggles faced by these twenty-something Arab Americans. They experience discrimination in schools and workplaces, and some even suffer the horror of being arrested and jailed without having committed a crime. However, their stories are not just a catalog of mistreatment and discrimination. They are filled with hope, determination, and the pursuit of a better life. It is their resilience and perseverance that may ultimately help our country heal the wounds inflicted upon these young people and their families. As with other marginalized groups in the past, time will ease tensions. Eventually, Arabs and Muslim Americans will be accepted as simply Americans, not merely a problem that needs to be tolerated, eradicated, or solved.
Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, has crafted this book based on his deep expertise and experience. Born in Switzerland and raised in Canada, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and has become an authority on the subject matter. In addition to his academic accomplishments, Bayoumi is a talented writer with essays published in reputable publications such as The Nation and The London Review of Books. He has also coedited The Edward Said Reader.
Throughout the book, Bayoumi shares the stories of seven young Arab Americans whom he has had the privilege to know. These individuals have faced various challenges and triumphs, and Bayoumi has kept in touch with them, witnessing their growth and determination. From Rasha, who finally obtained lawful permanent residency, to Sami, who completed his contract with the marines and is pursuing his degree, their stories are a testament to resilience and tenacity. Through Bayoumi’s engaging narrative, we gain insight into their lives and the issues they confront.
Bayoumi’s work highlights the struggles faced by Arab Americans and explores the misconceptions and prejudices that are prevalent in our society. By shedding light on these issues, he aims to encourage dialogue and foster understanding. His book serves as a wake-up call, prompting readers to reassess their preconceived notions and recognize the humanity of these young Arab Americans.
As we read “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?”, we are confronted with the harsh reality of racism and discrimination. It forces us to question our own biases and to consider how we can contribute to a more equitable society. It is essential that we continue to educate ourselves, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusivity. By doing so, we can work towards a future where Arabs and Muslims are no longer seen as “problems,” but rather as valued members of our diverse society.
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