Books by Carol Chehade
Little White Lies: Our Attempt to White-Out America
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The Racial Lessons
By Carol Chehade
Profiled, feared, detained, assaulted, accused, interrogated, harassed,
hated, and collectivized. Since 9-11, Arab Americans have been recipients of
what it feels like to be temporarily Black. Although it is wrong to treat Arab
Americans like criminals, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are treated in
ways African Americans have been treated for centuries.
Still, many in my Arab
American community are surprised when we are treated un-White. We figured that
if we played by the racial rules of this country, we would be bypassed in
receiving some of the bigotry that Blacks routinely receive. Yet, that old
cliché of what goes around comes around finally showed itself to be more than
The backlash we’re now receiving is from the same whip we’ve
borrowed to lash out against African Americans. Currently, the Arab American
community is having a hard time trying to figure out why we’ve been racially
demoted from ethnic house slave to ethnic field slave. I am less disappointed in
how my ethnic group has been signaled out and more disappointed in how we have
been pathetically courting the very White privilege that has the power to decide
which group will be signaled out.
Therefore, with the anniversary of 9-11 upon
us, we need to be completely honest as Arab Americans and ask ourselves whether
or not we have been ethnic models of anti-racism. My heart tells me no. Although
9-11 represents many things to different people, one of its most interesting
features is how the events after 9-11 can gauge how far we’ve come in
understanding the disease of racism.
As I walked through the diverse neighborhoods in New York City shortly after
the carnage of 9-11, I noticed many non-Black people of color had aggressively
decorated their homes and vehicles with American flags. The more immigrants in
the area or the more the residents resembled Arabs, the more flags I saw lightly
fluttering in the air. I thought to myself that it is too bad Black people can
not lightly wave their flags in the air whenever members from their own race
Unlike that of Arab Americans, the flag that African Americans
know is too heavily drenched in blood and tears that it can never lightly
flutter anywhere. Looking at how Arab Americans use flags reminds me of the
Biblical story when the God of Moses instructed the Hebrews to mark their doors
with blood so that the wrath of God bypasses their homes.
Like countless immigrant communities before 9-11, many Arab Americans freely
participated in covert and overt acts of racism against African Americans. This
is no secret to most Black people who already knew that Arab Americans have the
same type of superiority complex that European Americans do. This superiority
complex is not only evident in the way we act toward them, but the way we choose
to disassociate ourselves from their community.
Our disassociation would not be
so evident if we weren’t ruthlessly trying to move up the racial hierarchy so
that we can be closer to Whiteness. Unfortunately, every non-Black immigrant
group has worked hard to secure a so-called respectable place above Blacks on
the racial hierarchy. When groups like Italians, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, and
now Arabs have faced their turn to be questioned on their allegiance toward
upholding the protocol of the caste structure, few fully challenged the
legitimacy of this racist pre-condition to be accepted as Americans. In other
words, none of these immigrant groups aggressively acted in a way where they
stood by the lowest on the hierarchal racial order.
As the Arab American community contends with the discrimination we’re
facing, we have been a little more sympathetic about some of the issues African
Americans have always contended with, but which we did not believe until they
started happening to us. Instead of seeing the bigger picture of racism by
creating permanent and stronger ties with the Black community, we often use them
as a temporary residence where we find people sensitive to our plight. I say
temporary because we are not trying to stay "Black."
In contrast, the
only impermanent feelings we have toward Whites is that our eviction from
Whiteness is nothing more than a temporary inconvenience. As long as we repay
our dues by not challenging Whiteness in any real way then Whites, in exchange,
will trust us again and re-induct us back into the racial position we held prior
to 9-11. History shows us that as long as we follow the formula of selling out
our color to the highest bidder, then Whiteness will accept us back quicker than
they will Blacks.
The proof of us using Blacks as temporary residence is exemplified in the way
that we are more concerned with bigotry toward our community without
facing the racism that comes from our community. If we really wanted the
Black community as a permanent residence, then we’d put more effort and care
to resolve our issues. For example, if a man does not care for a woman rarely
will he try to find out about the complexities and contradictions that make her
unique because deep down he knows that it is a waste of time to understand
someone whom he’s only with temporarily.
In the context of our relationship
with Blacks, this translates as having a lazy attitude in race relations because
we are simply buying time in order to invest in the desired habitat of
Whiteness. We’re doing a huge disservice to race relations if we become
another of a long line of people who use the Black community and then discard it
for something perceived as better. As a result, we invalidate our cries of
discrimination by perpetuating the very thing of which we complain. Our
temporary exile from Whiteness should serve as a wake-up call as to whether we
want to be re-instated into a racial hierarchy that wields so much unearned
We look so racially arrogant when we complain to Black people about our
brushes with bigotry. Stereotypes against Arab Americans have never been
powerful enough to enslave us. An international event had to take place for the
eyes of Whiteness to look down upon us, whereas those very eyes have been
obsessively watching Blackness despite Black people having done nothing.
the worst terrorist attack on American soil for Arab Americans to be mistreated,
whereas all it took for African Americans to be mistreated was to be on American
soil. If Black Africans instead of Arabs had brought terrorism to our shores, there
would have been a race war in this country and judging by the way the Arab
American community has treated African Americans, I don’t think the majority
of us would jeopardize our climb up the racial hierarchy be siding with African
With all of the ignorance the Arab American community has been victim to, we
still haven’t fully learned our racial lessons due to the fact we still want
our full Whiteness back. One of the most seductive privileges of Whiteness is
that it allows us to blend back into the racial comfort zone where we’re not
constantly questioned. All non-Black people of color have been able to enjoy
this, albeit conditional, racial comfort zone.
Even if one has the appearance of
not looking White such as an Asian or one who wears the cultural or religious
clothing that mirrors group identity, that does not make them minorities. There are no
real physical minority groups in our society. Being a minority has less to do
with what we look like and more to do with how we think. A real minority means
someone who sells out and destroys the power of Whiteness.
Americans have done this more than any of us--often without choice--they produce
more minorities than other ethnic group of color. Arab Americans can never be
real minorities as long as we routinely switch racial allegiances to the side
that best serves us at the moment. We change our positions with as much speed as
Whiteness has in disowning those who challenge the false pretences it takes to
become White. We exhibit this non-committal, part-time minority status whenever
we want some of the perceived benefits of minorities without giving up the
privileges of Whiteness.
Until we can build an equal relationship with the Black community that does
not position Arab Americans with the upper hand, then I will not bastardize the
Black struggle by joining it with the Arab American struggle. As long as we
crave the approval of Whiteness, our relationship with the Black community will
Like all wars, 9-11 brought a country together over a shared common enemy.
This superficial unity will fall apart as soon as that enemy is shown its place
and the only way to keep this deceptive unity going is to find another common
enemy. The most returned to common enemy in our country has been Black people.
Our country may have short-term affairs with other enemies such as Arabs, but as
soon as these short-term affairs die out, then it always goes back to the enemy it
has abused the longest. Arab Americans have a tremendous opportunity to stop the
greedy racial adulterer by not enabling it with our consent to support the
indiscretions of racial superiority. If we are to be positive additions to the
United States, then we have to strengthen what makes us weak and one of the
biggest things that weaken us as a nation is racism.
Copyright © 2002 Carol Chehade
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Carol Chehade, writer and activist living in New York
City, has written a controversial book en titled,
Little White Lies: Our Attempt to White-Out America.
Born to Arab parents, and raised in Detroit, Chehade is among the self-described
"colorless immigrants who choose to dye our chameleon-like racial and
ethnic traits in order to blend in with Whiteness."
Her stance on race is
as complex as her multifaceted life experiences as a child of immigrants, whose
fair skin and light hair belie her North African/Middle Eastern roots Further information can be
found at www.nehmarchepublishing.com.
244 Fifth Ave. 2nd Floor, Suite F248 NY, NY firstname.lastname@example.org
update 1 July