Surviving America as a Middle Easterner

For most people moving to a new country is a challenge in itself, but when you face discrimination in your new home the challenges are much greater.  Middle Easterners have been facing rising amounts of discrimination since 9/11 occurred making it harder to live in our society today.

Surviving America as a Middle Easterner

By Elaina Moradi

Jasmine Shirazi, a Towson University student, waits alone patiently in a bustling airport as her twin brothers get selected for a random security screening. Jasmine isn’t phased by this road bump in her travel plans, at this point, her and her family are used to these “random selections.”

“My brothers always get selected for random checks,” Jasmine said. “Every single time we go to the airport they get selected. It’s just really inconvenient”

Many people believe that these selections aren’t so random after all.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, Middle Easterners are one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in America; currently making up 4% of the US population.

The media today has a plethora of stories about the Middle East that may be deemed influential. A study done by Dominican University showed that many of the nearly 70 Saudi students enrolled at the school were worried about their safety in the U.S. based off of things they saw in the media.

“Media’s influence is really scaring people.” Dr. Jameta Barlow, a professor at Towson University, says. “We live in a fearful world, media has made a lot of people fearful and when you’re afraid you create policies and you create this panic that results in violence and people are okay with that.”

Discrimination against Middle Easterners is said to have risen after 9/11 despite the fact that Americans were encouraged to refrain from any threats of violence or discrimination as requested by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Intergroup Clearinghouse reported that 4 months after 9/11 there were 1,700 cases of discrimination against Middle Easterners.

“It’s annoying hearing middle easterners all being categorized as terrorists. It’s usually a joke but after a while it gets kind of old,” Jasmine said. “My family are good people and they are nothing close to terrorists so I get pretty insulted when people say that.”

According to LACCHR’S 2003 report many immigrant groups, including Middle Easterners, are likely to under-report hate crimes committed against them for reasons such as reluctance to contact authorities. Reluctance to report a crime may be caused by fear of the outcome.

“People justify their actions by saying we can never be too careful, so we create victims because we want to be careful…people use their implicit bias to make assumptions,” Barlow said.

According to a report from the American-Arab anti-discrimination committee, Arab Americans still face discrimination in the media, in schools and workplaces, at airports, and during border crossings into the United States.

Fear of our society is an issue Mariam Shahin, a Towson resident, faces on a day-to-day basis.

“I like my job very much. It gives me something to do and extra money, but I know that I was put in the back because when I came here I had a strong accent. Now I speak better and I’m still in the back and I think it’s because I’m from Iran and people are afraid of Iran.”

Although Mariam is happy with her position at work she does feel discrimination towards her in the workplace.

“I think the other workers try to take advantage of me,” Mariam said. “They think that I can’t think for myself or that they’re better than me so they expect me to do what they say. Most of the time people just say that that’s how work is but I always think it’s because of where I am from.”

Discrimination and stereotypes are affecting many Middle Easterners in negative ways so the question asked is, what can we do, as a society, to overcome these stereotypes?

“My dream would be that we make travelling available to everyone. We need diversity at a younger age so children can see that everyone is different and we can ask questions and have these conversations…We need diversity everywhere, in doctors offices, in government, we need diversity at every layer of society,” Barlow said.

In a survey by Center for American Progress, it states that 95.8% of fortune 500 CEO’s are non-Hispanic white, only 4.2% of the CEO’S are people of color showing the lack of diversity in corporate boardrooms. The federal government employs 2.8 million people, making it the nations biggest employer, but research shows that diversity is lacking in senior levels of the federal government.

“You create the type of environment that will be conducive to better understanding other cultures and having those conversations and valuing the diversity,” Dr. Barlow said.

As for Jasmine her attitude does not change, even after the long wait at security.

“I love being Persian it makes me unique and cultured and just different from everyone else. I’d rather be different and open to new people and things than just close-minded and stuck in the past as far as understanding cultures goes.”

IMG_7686

Iranian women gather around for a traditional Persian meal in Tehran, Iran

Sources:

Jasmine Shirazi: 202-870-6767

Jameta Barlow: 410-704-5453

Mariam Shahin: 410-608-82077

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