Khalid Jabara And What It's Like Being An Arab-American
A few days ago, Lebanon was rocked by the saddening news of a Lebanese-American’s murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Khalid Jabara was 37 years old when he was shot to his death by neighbor Stanley Majors.
Majors had a documented history of racist hate crimes against the Jabara family, who in the 1980s had transplanted from Lebanon and made their home in the southern state. Foul language – expressions like “dirty Arabs,” “filthy Lebanese,” and “Mooslims” – as well as running over Khalid’s mother in September 2015 point to a neurotic psychopath who should have been thrown behind bars. The truth is he served six months in jail for last year’s mow-down and was released without parole or house arrest in March.
I won’t delve deeper into the details of the crime, because those can be found in any news publication, from CNN to The Guardian. This piece is about the empathy I feel with the Jabara family, whose loss can never be forgotten nor redeemed.
Having grown up in the US, particularly in Southern California, I can somewhat testify to how tricky it is to pass unnoticed as an Arab-American. I spent my childhood fending off pointed questions like “Where are you from?” and “No, where are you really from?” whenever I answered I was a California native.
|Anyone remember the movie "Mean Girls"? Yes, bullying based on differences does exist!|
Assuring curious onlookers that I was born and raised in the Golden State never sufficed. They immediately sensed I was different. Wavy brown locks, brown eyes and my distinctively Mediterranean look betrayed me as a foreigner, even though by definition I am not. If my spoken and written English are indication alone of my “Americanness,” I put all these people to shame, I’d think.
|Me as a child|
Growing up, I detested being singled out. Children have a way of being unjustly critical, of banding up and ostracizing those who don’t blend in with their identity. I didn't fit nearly inside the perimeter of those narrow boxes.
My pita bread sandwiches at lunchtime were a dead giveaway, as was my inability to attend sleepover parties – my parents weren’t as accommodating as those of my American friends. I was fluent in Arabic, but I avoided speaking it in public for fear of becoming the object of disdain.
|Photo credit: http://worldartsme.com/|
Did I experience any alarming racism in the US? I still recall how my brother’s freshman chemistry professor brashly attacked him after the events of 9/11. “Look at what your people have done to my people,” she uttered. He was speechless. Though his grades easily landed him an “A,” she marked “B+” on his transcript, and he had to escalate the issue with the dean to have the inaccuracy revoked.
Whenever I was cornered into admitting my “Lebaneseness,” I was frustrated that no one could pin the country on a map. I’d mention the Middle East, after which they wanted to clarify whether we rode camels and traversed sand dunes.
Moving to Lebanon five years ago was for the most part natural. Here, I can identify with the culture and value system. Sure, my English accent reveals I wasn’t born in these parts, but that’s never proved to be a drawback. In fact, it draws favor and admiration from my peers. They’re tickled I chose Lebanon over any Western bastion, as though they need me to appraise the value of the Lebanese experience.
It’s true that some Lebanese have trouble stomaching why anyone with a second nationality would ever waste a minute living in our backward dystopia. They don’t know what it’s like to be scoped from head to toe; to be set apart for not blending in with a nonexistent archetype; to be frisked every time they step foot inside an airport and are searched overtly before questioning eyes.
They’ve never been in my shoes, or in the shoes of Khalid Jabara and his family members, for that matter.
Rest in peace, Khalid. May the memory of your plight live on, and may this world find peace in our time.
|Khalid Jabara, the victim of racism|