Young U.S. Muslims struggle against prejudice

Speaking with kids from high schools and youth organizations in the Dearborn area, Y-Press learned about some of the stereotypes many Americans hold about Arab-Americans and Muslims. The issues affecting Arab teens range from everyday high school challenges to discrimination.

The Abusalah family, natives of Palestine, ordered their meals at a restaurant and watched as the white family next to them got more attention from the waiter: Their order was taken first, the food arrived faster, and the waiter was simply friendlier. He barely smiled at the Arab-American family.

“It’s all the time,” said Reema Abusalah, 15. “We always get the dirty looks and stares. It’s not around Dearborn usually, but when we leave Dearborn, we see people who are not Arab stare at us, give us dirty looks and look funny at us.”

Reema feels that people who don’t live in diverse communities such as Dearborn rely on biased opinions to generate a picture of Arab-Americans.

For example, a lot of movies cast Arabs as villains, and the news media reports more negative stories about Arabs than positive ones. Yusef Saad, 16, saw a documentary called “Real Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.” Arabs come out looking bad in such films as “Back to the Future” and even the Disney movie, “Aladdin,” Yusef said.

For Muslim teenage girls wearing the traditional Islamic hijab, or headscarf, stereotypes are sometimes intensified. “They think that all Muslim girls are oppressed and forced to put on the hijab. Well, it’s actually the other way around,” said Nour Hijazi, 17. “We want people to look at us and not evaluate how we look, but actually how we are and the way we treat people.”

Indianapolis Star, 21 October 2007