بياضي القسري... لماذا يُصنّف العرب بيض البشرة؟
Few months back, I went to a blood donation event organised by the Red Cross. The Afro-American nurse who assisted me came to ask me few questions to fill the forms. When she inquired about my race, I spontaneously answered: White non-Caucasian. She looked at me with astonished eyes, and said in her best accent: Um Um you no white girl! I absolutely agree with her given my obviously tanned complexion, but the U.S. Census Bureau thinks otherwise.
North African Arabs like myself together with Amazighs, Persians, Kurds, Turks, Jews, and Armenians are all considered legally and statistically white in the United States. Some research revealed that the first generation of Middle Eastern migrants starting from 1909 sought naturalisation by claiming to be white. As other races were denied such right and deported as non-white aliens. That statement would have been easier then, as most Arab migrants were from the Levant, of fair skin, and many with Christian names like the Syrian George Shishim, who was the first Middle Eastern to prove his whiteness by a court ruling.
Many people from my part of the world still change names from Mohamed to Mike and from Omar to Mark to obtain a stable job in a society where the Middle East and North Africa are still associated with terrorism and violent extremism. #ArabLivesMatter
Although all Arabs and North Africans are deemed white in the US since 1943, my situation as a Moroccan is slightly more complex. Apparently, four black Moroccans were granted a special status under the Moors Sunday Act of 1790 in South Carolina. Although black, they were considered free subjects of the Sultan Mohamed Ibn Abdallah and exempted of the Negro Act of 1740. Many Moorish blacks still believe the romantic story of their Moroccan ancestry to this day. Of course the truth is far less idyllic. Morocco did have at the time hundred of thousands black “subjects” thanks to its ruthless expansionism and colonisation of big parts of west Africa. The country is also known for its focal role in slave trade to the American continent through its Atlantic ports.
My forced whiteness in this country comes without any privilege. No special treatment or birthrights. No entitlement to state structures or wealth. Many people from my part of the world still have to change their names from Mohamed to Mike and from Omar to Mark to obtain a stable job in a society where the Middle East and North Africa are still associated with terrorism and violent extremism.
It's more than necessary to rectify our racial status as Arab Americans recognising us as neither black nor white. We are the millions that fall in the box “Other”, the alter ego within the US body that is feared, misjudged, and forced into fake whiteness
My forced whiteness also forces on me a surreal “white guilt” about historical atrocities perpetuated by European settlers. I definitely have nothing to do with native American genocide, sterilisation, and child separation. I do not belong to white plantation owners who enslaved the ancestors of today’s Afro-Americans. I feel no “white man’s burden” to “civilise” any autochthones. My people were actually subjected to equally barbaric practices. The Spanish led chemical warfare in the Rif in the 1920s and amputated large chunks of historical Morocco, while the French segregated the Arabs and the Amazighs and still have a collection of Algerian skulls in their national history museum as a souvenir of that dark era. No need to expend on modern day oil motivated Imperialism that everyone is aware of.
In the midst of the current identity based unrest and wave of demonstrations, It is more than necessary to rectify our racial status as Arabs and recognise us for what we really are neither black or white. We are the millions that fall in the box “Other”. The alter ego within the US body that is often feared, misjudged, and forced into fake whiteness.