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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  643 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
The story of how young Arab and Muslim Americans are forging lives for themselves in a country that often mistakes them for the enemy

Arab and Muslim Americans are the new, largely undiscussed “problem” of American society, their lives no better understood than those of African Americans a century ago. Under the cover of the terrorist attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Ir
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 14th 2008 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2008)
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Heather Colacurcio
May 21, 2012 Heather Colacurcio rated it really liked it
This book was assigned to me for a college course and I couldn't be more grateful for it. As a twenty-something, I've seen a fair share of recent American tragedy, the most horrific being September 11, 2001. Yet, the effects of tragedy have serious consequences when an angry, grieving society wants to place blame. That blame has been and continues to be placed on the Arab and Muslim community, creating a heavy and unjust burden for those residing in the supposed "land of the free". Reading throu ...more
Aug 23, 2015 Diz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read on a topic that needs more discussion in our society. A strong point of this book is that the author provided accounts from a wide variety of Arab-Americans. Doing this helped to break the stereotype of Arab-Americans that is common these days. The accounts provided a good picture of the situations that Arab-Americans face today.

One thing that I didn't like about the book so much is that there are quite a few reconstructed conversations that the author did not witnes
Jun 22, 2016 Elizabeth☮ rated it really liked it
I read this book in preparation for a class I am taking this summer entitled: Retelling and Rewriting America.

I found this to be an easy and accessible read. Each chapters tells the story of a young Arab American (all of the participants are younger than thirty) and none of the stories are the same.

It is fascinating to read about the transition (for some) to America and how their families assimilated into American culture. It is also heartbreaking to hear how many of these immigrants feel like
I appreciated all these stories BUT Yasmin's.

I felt her story should not have been included as it wasn't valid. She signed her name to run for student body secretary. When you sign your name to a document you agree to ALL the stipulations, otherwise you should NOT sign your name. One of the stipulations, that as an officer, you MUST attend ALL functions. Her beliefs did not allow her to attend dances because she felt they were morally wrong. In her opinion it was all about sexed up teenagers an
If it hadn't been necessary for me to read this all the way through, then I would've thrown this away and taken it to the garbage can OUTSIDE.

Being forced to read a book for a university class is always guaranteed to leave a sour taste in your mouth. However, with each new book, I always stay optimistic and try to like it.

And with this little number, I tried liking it so hard I might as well have been constipated.

I do, however, give kudos to this book for addressing a serious issue all over the
Apr 21, 2009 Eugene rated it really liked it
all history is biography bayoumi shows us again and again and again with these only occasionally sentimental, sometimes triumphant, and very very often heartbreaking profiles of young arab-america.

these portraits of brooklynites show a pervasive racism that i'll admit was profoundly unfamiliar to me. profound not only because these documented injustices occurred close by, down the block and up the hall--but profound too because i'd naively assumed that, for the most part, your cruder, tradition
Feb 13, 2016 Diana rated it it was ok
I was SO excited for this book, to help me better understand something I have never experienced. I think a book like this needs to be out in the world to show just how difficult it is to be Arab In America. While I was intrigued by the lives of Arab Americans in Brooklyn and outraged at the discrimination they faced, the book devolves into its own form of hatred. I'll be the first to admit America has problems, but I'm not sure hating back helped; it seemed to undermine the genuine struggles in ...more
Tabitha Vohn
Mar 30, 2015 Tabitha Vohn rated it really liked it
Shelves: being-nosy
Its difficult rating a book on the basis of enjoyment when it's purpose is to inform, not to entertain. That being said, this is an informative look into a perspective that we (in America) are not often given a window to.

I enjoyed some of the stories more than others (the first is especially moving), only because a few of the narratives seemed to be unnecessarily long while other, more compelling ones were cut short. (I think this had something to do with the longer stories belonging to persona
Jun 13, 2016 Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book on a whim while walking around Chelsea at one of my favorite bookstores. I started reading it in the store and continued as I walked around the city that afternoon. As well as on my way home, and then at the seat by the window in my apartment till I finished it. I could not put in down. I completed it in less than 3 hours. Yes, I thought it was that good.

The story is of my city, my borough, in particular, about Brooklyn. The people in this story - all young and under 30 - coul
May 15, 2010 Gregory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, politics

I highly recommend Moustafa Bayoumi's How Does it Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. The title comes from W.E.B. Du Bois, who asked the same question about African American during Jim Crow. Bayoumi, who is an English professor at Brooklyn College, chronicles seven Arabs (men and women mostly in their 20s in Brooklyn) and we meet their friends as well.

As you might imagine, the result defies all stereotypes. Some are deeply devout Mu
Nice stories and overall an excellent manifestation of the argument against the essentialization of Arab-American identity. But there was an overarching tone of contempt toward political/military authority and an increasingly pious/holier-than-thou tone which made me kind of lose interest with the latter narratives. The first few were really good, though. And I think the fact that different people's stories might speak to different readers is part of this book's strength.

Another strength is how
Aug 20, 2011 Niki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars--There were times when Bayoumi's writing was so rich and so thoroughly able to capture the experience of his subjects that the pages flew by. I also felt that Bayoumi's journalism shone in most of the book. There were so many stunning and difficult facts, so many awful personal impacts of anti-Arab feeling post-9/11. I have since also read Bayoumi's essay "Between Acceptance and Rejection: Muslim Americans and the Legacies of September 11." While both show Bayoumi's strength in detail, ...more
Olfat Sakr
Jun 15, 2013 Olfat Sakr rated it it was amazing
My cousin was given this book to read for a class in college and she recommended I read it. It tells the story of 7 Arab-Americans' lives after September 11th. The author chose those 7 stories well; he managed to introduce a variety of issues that they face ranging from identity issues, religious issues to discrimination and politics. I admired the characters for persevering and working past the problems they are facing to make a difference and help others who face the same issues.

This was defin
William Cornwell
Aug 05, 2016 William Cornwell rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in social justice & American racial, ethnic, & religious minorities
Recommended to William by: Salem State University's First Year Reading Experience's book selection for 2016.
Shelves: nonfiction
This is an uneven collection from 2006 of portraits (not "profiles," the author tell us--Arab-Americans are subject to too much racial and religious profiling) of seven young Arab-Americans in Brooklyn.

Some things have changed substantially for Arab Americans since 2006: American involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have mostly ended, and the rawness of the wound to the American psyche of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 have receded. Yet, Arab Americans still face a challenging and volatile
Ramtin Poustnichi
Jun 04, 2015 Ramtin Poustnichi rated it really liked it
Focusing on the subject of prejudice against muslims in the U.S. Moustafa Bayoumis’ “How Does it Feel to be a Problem” delves deep into a topic that would have otherwise remained closed to the eyes of the American public. His novel chronicles the true stories of seven young Muslim Americans and provides clear examples of American prejudice post 9/11. The story of one Muslim American teenager by the name of Rasha was especially striking. Depicting the arrest of Rasha and her family after 9/11 and ...more
Jun 25, 2015 Bridget rated it it was amazing
Wow. The first book I've found that addresses how American Arab and Muslim CITIZENS deal with our post 9/11 country. I had to keep reminding myself throughout the book that the seven young Americans featured are citizens of the US with all the same rights I have.... because it sure didn't seem like it reading the book. How can we treat young Americans this way and not even feel apologetic? There is no national security threat that requires us to take away the rights of a select group of citizens ...more
Julia Hazel
Dec 27, 2015 Julia Hazel rated it really liked it
What I liked most about this book is how varied the perspectives and stories of the seven different young Arab Americans portrayed are. The people interviewed for this book include a young man who fought in the Iraq war, a woman running for office in her high school's student government, a woman held with her mother and sister in a prison, and others. Their families' lives and choices intersect with the choices they are making for themselves--choices about identity, education, career paths, plac ...more
Abby M
Mar 23, 2016 Abby M rated it liked it
Shelves: school-books

I read this for class, and I was not at all pleased. I picked this book for a project because I figured it would be helpful with finding out information on religious extremism, and I was completely let down. I could not get into it, and it just did sound right. In the book, there are the seven stories of young Arabs in the aftermath of 9/11. Each story was told from the third-person, so it felt completely impersonal. I could not connect with any of these people, and it just dragged on forever. I

Jul 03, 2015 P. rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic, yyay
This would be a great book to give to teens to explain what creative non-fiction is. I liked taking my time to read one or half of one person's story at lunch. They were all different, and all nuanced, but my favorite was the girl who fought to be part of the student council at her school.

This is my favorite quote, from Omar's story (he is trying to get a job in Journalism and isn't sure if his internship at Al-Jazeera is harming him or if the economy is just bad, or what):

"And that's where Oma
Ayman Fadel
Mar 20, 2015 Ayman Fadel rated it really liked it
Review at my blog with hyperlinks.

The author relates the stories of seven Arab-American youth from Brooklyn, New York.

It's hard for me to relate to the stories in this book because I'm much older than the subjects, I've never lived in a place with a lot of Arabs (or great ethnic diversity) and I've never had the family, financial and legal struggles many of them had.

Nevertheless, the stories were engaging, and I read the book quickly. Each subject's story made me think abou
Mar 10, 2015 Eman rated it it was amazing
This was such an informative, well-written book and it is written in such a way that I couldn't put it down. As a Muslim/Arab-American, I could relate to the prejudices that the Muslim Americans experience. This book is set up in narrative sections for different Muslim Americans and it shows such diversity in experiences and attitudes. If a person generalizes Arabs, this book definitely shows that no Arab is alike. This book also shows the discrimination that Arabs faced post 9/11 that the media ...more
Dec 25, 2009 Sidewalk_Sotol rated it really liked it
Moustafa Bayoumi takes the reader to New York City, where he interviews several under-30 Arab Americans about their experiences growing up in the United States, particularly as it relates to being Arab, and, with one exception, Muslim. Some of the stories are triumphant, some sad. But all of them are fascinating and emerge as complex human beings.

He does not much use their voice, but uses the style of an ethnographer - mixing his own observations and some social history with the words of his su
Sep 25, 2009 Raff rated it it was amazing
The first thing any reader will have to note is that this book is extremely well written. The author is a college English professor but this work is not what one might expect from an academic. His thesis is that young Arab Americans and Muslims face special discriminatory challenges, especially after 9-11. The point that these slights are inflicted in sundry and subtle (and not so subtle) ways, is deftly made with thought-provoking experiences. This treatise, in my opinion, effortlessly runs the ...more
May 21, 2013 Jenna rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
This book is so important. I really want to hand a copy to just about everybody and tell them they need to read it. Especially in light of recent events in American news, I think this is something we need to think about, talk about, and search our hearts about.

The book is well-written and engaging. Bayoumi adds enough details to flesh out each person, but the stories don't drag. I connected more with some of the people profiled than others, but that's because these are real people. As with real
Sep 05, 2013 Karen.s rated it really liked it
I came across this book in an article in the local Sunday paper as the author will be appearing at Millersville University. First off, kudos to MU for making this book required reading for all its incoming freshman. They want to spotlight the Middle East and the experiences of Arabs in the US post 9/11. Second of all, as the American-born mother of three Arab American teens, who have been confronted with their Arab identity, I was very interested to know what else might they face and how others ...more
Nov 13, 2008 Weavre rated it really liked it
This was an interesting series of portraits of young Arab-Americans living in Brooklyn, NY. The glimpse into their experiences offers important insights into how their lives have been shaped by popular views of Moslem people and of people of Arabic descent.

At different points in our history, we justified discrimination against Jews because we "knew" they were really unscrupulous businesspeople who committed atrocities in their religious rites ... and we were wrong. We justified discrimination a
This was the last book I read for a seminar on 20th-and-21st-century Immigrant Writers in the US.

While it was certainly well written, I did not like it as much as the others. This is mostly the case because of the subject matter, as I'm simply not that interested in the topic of Arab-Americans. The stories do pack quite a punch, especially the first, which is about a girl who is illegaly imprisoned in the wake of 9/11, but others, such as the one about Yasmin just seemed tedious to me. Yasmin w
Jennifer Heise
Jun 18, 2013 Jennifer Heise rated it it was amazing
I looked forward to reading this for our book group, thinking of something along the lines of Black Like Me, etc. I got much more for my time. As I said to my roommate, "I'm reading a book right now-- I can't say I think you'll 'enjoy' it per se but I think you will feel illuminated by reading it."

The smooth, easy writing style, and the compelling stories had me hooked right away. I had to stop to catch my breath after reading just the first section. I knew there were social problems in the U.S.
Nov 15, 2010 Mythili rated it liked it

“Opposition to my book seems more symptomatic of our moment than produced by its contents,” Moustafa Bayoumi writes in The Chronicle for Higher Education. I just finished reading How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? and I agree. Bayoumi’s book isn't the work of a "radical."

The book is interested in the roadblocks young Arab-Americans hit on the way to adulthood — and the negotiations they make with their background in the process. It’s a coming of age story
Jul 18, 2011 Vivek rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It was a real treat to read Bayoumi's seven portraits of young Arab American's living in post-9/11 Brooklyn.

Not only are the stories that he found incredibly interesting, but he also spun the narratives in a very compelling, authentic, way. I am hesitant to describe any of the stories, for fear of taking something away from the experience of approaching each one completely fresh the first time you read it, but I found the story of Yasmin, a young student who fights against injustice in her high
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