The University of Texas at Austin
  • Speaking up for Arab Americans

    By Rose Cahalan, The Alcalde
    Published: Aug. 8, 2011
    Assistant Professor Germine Awad is Egyptian American.Photo: Kae Wang

    This story originally appeared on The Alcalde Web site.

    Germine Awad was a psychology graduate student in Illinois on Sept. 11, 2001. As people flocked to TV sets blaring footage of burning buildings, a professor approached her.

    “Don’t be upset if people yell at you, because they’re really just upset about what happened,” the professor said. Awad, who is Egyptian American, reacted with disbelief. “I thought, are you kidding me? How could I not be upset?”

    Awad’s parents, Egyptian immigrants who owned a business in Cleveland, experienced discrimination with increased frequency in the months after 9/11.

    “People of all ethnic backgrounds would come into their store and say things like ‘Your people bombed America!’” she recalled. “Number one, Muslims in America had nothing to do with 9/11, and number two, my parents aren’t Muslim. People just really didn’t get it.”

    Even more alarming to Awad was the realization that this lack of understanding pervaded academia as well. As she pored over psychology journals for her graduate coursework, she faced the same frustrating overgeneralization over and over again: Many researchers falsely assumed that “Arab American” and “Muslim American” were synonyms.

    “People were confounding ethnicity and religion. But if we look at the statistics, most Arab Americans are Christian,” Awad explained. According to a 2002 Zogby poll, only about 24 percent of the roughly 3.5 million Arab Americans are Muslim, while the largest group, comprising 35 percent, is Catholic. A few of the many countries of origin for Arab Americans are Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Algeria, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

    Germine Awad

    Assistant Professor Germine AwadPhoto: Kae Wang

    Though Awad was already focusing her research on prejudice and discrimination, she hadn’t specifically studied Arab Americans. But after 9/11, “I felt like we needed more people to tell this story,” she said. “I realized that as an Arabic speaker, as someone who is ethnically identified, I was in a unique position to help tell it.”

    It’s a story she’s been telling ever since. In her 2010 study, “The Impact of Acculturation and Religious Identification on Perceived Discrimination for Arab/Middle Eastern Americans,” she surveyed 177 Arab Americans and found that those who were both Muslim and highly acculturated, or acclimated to life in America, perceive more discrimination than other Arab American groups.

    This shows that discrimination toward Arab Americans is not just based on perceived foreignness, Awad said: “Even when individuals didn’t have an accent, when they weren’t living in an ethnic enclave, when they were less obviously ‘foreign’ — they were still experiencing a lot of discrimination. And Muslims had it the worst.”

    This isn’t an earth-shattering finding — and to the many Arab and Muslim Americans who’ve been subjected to discriminatory comments, it’s hardly surprising. But Awad is one of the first researchers to document it empirically. There are still very few Arab American psychologists, whether researchers or clinicians, and Awad said this underrepresentation makes it difficult for Arab Americans to receive mental health care tailored to their needs.

    “In the long run, I hope my research helps people get better care,” she said. “Therapists who may be afraid to take on Arab American clients — I want to help them gain more understanding.”

    Now she’s won a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to do just that. Awad’s next study will measure the effects of discrimination on Arab Americans’ mental health. She predicts that people who experience more discrimination, especially Muslims, will also be more likely to suffer depression and anxiety.

    Ultimately, Awad said, we’re all responsible for acknowledging our own prejudices. “Everyone has them,” she said. “And we need to stop being politically correct. Don’t be afraid to sound ignorant and ask questions. How will we learn more about one another if we’re afraid to ask?”

    • Quote 2
      Advocatenkantoor Utrecht said on Aug. 30, 2011 at 9:13 a.m.
      Like pointed out in previous posts discrimination on such a big scale doesn't only limit itself to the United States. I might be good if Awad kept in communication with other countries as well. I wouldn't be surprised if research on certain topic has already been done. It would also be symbolic a good thing to do. Diiferent kind of nationalists teaming up to identify and fight the root cause.
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      Jim said on Aug. 25, 2011 at 7:50 p.m.
      What Ms. Awad is doing is a good thing, and it may help a lot of people. Discrimination against Arab-Americans occurred before 911 too, I'm sure. Discrimination has occurred to every new ethnic group that has ever entered the United States. The Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon. Native Americans killed native Americans for their land, long before the Americans came. Discrimination and prejudice is part of human nature. It can be overcome, but you have to be sensitive and aware of it. Hopefully, what Ms. Awad is doing will help that cause.
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      Funke said on Aug. 21, 2011 at 8:07 p.m.
      This was a great article. Congrats to Dr. Awad! I find a similiar correlation to other (African) immigrants to assimilate American culture--they more readily percieve racism than immigrants who refuse to abjure their original culture. To address a previous commentator that suggested people should give up the hypens and just be Americans (of course, assuming that those who would consider that are proud to be American), I believe that option is better referred to as assimilation. From the perspective of U.S. born citizen of immigrant parents,I like many others who hypen their ethnicity, recognize the heritage of my parents (for some, ancestors) and embrace that culture as an importance part of my identity. Differences should not be hidden but accepted in order for unity.
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      Tamer Kaoud said on Aug. 19, 2011 at 1:03 p.m.
      I am muslim, and I never faced any discrimination, as long as I am successful in my work, I can get all my rights here. And no one never ask me about my religion. The only discrimination I have felt is right now when I red this article as you are discriminating the people according to their religion (Arab muslim or christian) and this is completely wrong and contradict the aim of your project.
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      Terri said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 8:13 p.m.
      Excellent and thought provoking article. The comments/opinions were enlightening as well.As a behavioral health professional in the Southwest, there is an increasing Middle Eastern population here and I have never thought beyond the discrimination they face.I am grateful to Dr. Awad for looking at the mental health needs of these individuals. Congratulations on your Hogg Foundation grant!
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      John said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 3:36 p.m.
      The suggestion by a commenter that "Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Moderate Muslims around the world" are at fault for prejudice perpetrated against them because they do not "speak out against Muslim Terrorists" is ridiculous and offensive. Are Jewish-Americans required to speak out against Jonathan Pollard to avoid prejudicial treatment? Are all Christian and/or Norwegian and/or Irish Americans required to speak out against Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik to avoid prejudice? Of course not. Holding "Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Moderate Muslims around the world" to a different standard reveals your prejudice.
    • Quote 2
      Tracy G-F said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 2:13 p.m.
      Thanks so much for this article. I'm currently working with teachers in the New York area on teaching about the events of 9/11 and its aftermath, ten years later, and it's nice to see my alma mater featuring an article that I can add to the resources I share with educators.
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      Howard R. Lowe said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 11:32 a.m.
      I lived in Saudi Arabia in the late 1940s. Also, I have worked as a geologist in North Africa and Middle East countries. I have seen the resentment & complete ignorance exhibited by many Americans, who have little or no knowledge of the Arab culture or Muslim religion. I have many Muslim friends both here and in the Middle East. Topping this is the fact these same people do not realize that many Arab Amricans are Christians. Congratulations to Dr. Awad on her contributiion to better understanding of the problem.
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      Cary Michael Cox said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.
      1. Great points of education on difference between Muslim Americans and Arab Americans. One of my friends, a dentist, his family is from Lebanon with an Arab Surname though he and his family are Christian and very conservative. Most in America are too uneducated to realize the difference. 2. Stats are a little off on who is discriminated against the most. See following statistics from FBI Of the 1,575 victims of a religious bias, over 70 percent were victims of an anti-Jewish bias. The second highest group, at 8.4 percent, were the victims of an anti-Muslim bias. The Jews are discriminated against by almost 9 to 1 margin compared to Muslims. 3. The discrimiantion that exists would be much less if both Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Moderate Muslims around the world would speak out against the Muslim Terrorists. That silence can be seen as the same as supporting them. If you are an American you stand-up for America and Americans first and foremost. It would be the same if Whites in Texas/America said nothing when James Byrd Jr. was horribly dragged to death. The silence described above is baffling to most Americans.
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      Alan said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 6:11 a.m.
      As intended to be a positive comment to responder Angie, please consider that every group of people are prejudiced against others. That is an unfortunate attribute of human nature once passed on to me by a wise Judge many decades ago(although that was not done in a formal legal setting.) The article is very interesting and informative. But, aside from the prejudices between people of different orgins there is also the problem of religious prejudices. And, of course, it would seem that the concept of "Death to the Infidel" does not help the overall cause of the peaceful? Muslin religion.
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      Michael said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 12:53 a.m.
      Lets all leave the hyphens off of our race and just all be Americans, MAYBE then we can all start getting along! If you're an American be proud of it and get rid of the hyphen! please
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      Eugenia said on Aug. 18, 2011 at 12:37 a.m.
      Congratulations to Dr. Awad on her Hogg Foundation grant!
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      Angie said on Aug. 15, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.
      As a typical American married to an Arab-American and mother to 3 American born "Arab-Americans", I never understood how people will prejudice themselves against another just because of there genealogy. Interesting read.......
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