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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,511 ratings  ·  191 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, 290 pages
Published August 14th 2008 by Penguin Press (first published 2008)
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Heather Colacurcio
Jun 30, 2011 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
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is an interesting book about the lives of young Muslims of Arab descent living in Brooklyn in the first few years after 9/11. If that sounds very specific, well, it is, but despite what may initially seem to be a narrow focus, the book seems to me to do a good job of addressing various aspects of Arab Muslim life in the U.S. Each of its seven chapters is devoted to a different young person, whose story unfolds over 30-odd pages.

Most of the chapters have a specific focus. Rasha’s story is a
Romany Arrowsmith
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
The stories (and the millions like it that go unnoticed and untold in this country) are as important as the writing is horrendous. At the beginning of every new essay, Bayoumi feels the need to orient himself into the story - where he was when he first saw so-and-so, what so-and-so first looked like, and it always ends up reading like a bad noir detective talking about, I don't know, "the tall drink of water with gams from here to chicago who walked into his office on a friday evening with heavy ...more
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
Sep 20, 2016 marked it as to-read
Dr. Bayoumi was the keynote speaker at the Academic Convocation at Carlow University today. Unfortunately I did not know about this in time to get a copy of the book to read, which would be my preference. But he is a fantastic speaker, and spent a great deal of time answering questions at the reception held afterwards. Very articulate, knowledgeable, informed, and entertaining. Any time you can get a bunch of freshmen students involved and actually want to ask questions (even beyond what was req ...more
Aug 18, 2015 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
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-harder-2017
What a weekend to finish this book. My country's racist president signed an executive order banning people from 7 majority Muslim and Arab countries late last week, and this weekend, I sat down to finish the 7 stories of Rasha, Lina, Yasmin, Sami, Akram, Omar, and Rami. Although these are stories from real people that happened between 20 and 10 years ago, and they are so similar to what is happening still.

Bayoumi is a careful and political mastermind, and he picked stories that showcase the cou
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
Richard Knight
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Some stories in this book are infuriating. Some are inspiring. And some are distinctly familiar. But all of them are excellent, and I recommend this book to any Muslim-hating SOB (and I know a few) out there, since it shows how Muslims are not so different from anybody else. Because of course they're not. They're human! And we're all in this together. ...more
Apr 21, 2009 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
May 11, 2010 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
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
Tabitha Vohn
Mar 19, 2015 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 16, 2016 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
Jan 23, 2016 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
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Moustafa Bayoumi presents the stories of seven young Arab and Muslim Americans living in his multi-ethnic home community of Brooklyn. Though their experiences are vastly different, all face problems due to their ethnicity that the average white American would never expect or even be aware of. An associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, Bayoumi writes engagingly and creates reader empathy for his young subjects. I felt outrage along with 19-year-old Rasha, a university student, who, in ...more
Nicole Means
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What does it mean to be young and Arab in today's America? What does it feel like to be looked upon with suspicion for being you?? Bayoumi explores how it feels to want to believe in America--to want to believe that America is the land of opportunity, but how can we continue to spread this to our children when this is not true. Many Muslims today do not feel that this country is providing them with the opportunities that their ancestors moved here for. Bayoumi excellently recounts the stories of ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it

How Dows it Feel Be a Problem? is an important discussion of post 9/11 America, although I often found myself wanting more. In the preface, Bayoumj describes this story as a collection of "portraits" and I think that is the best way to approach this book. If you are looking for a nonfiction book filled with facts and studies, you will be disappointed. Instead, it reminds me more of a memoir. We hear each person's story through their voices, see it through their eyes.

Also, be warned that the book
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
2.5 Stars

Very interesting stories (except the last one), good prose. What really bugged me about this book is the author's complete and total lack of empathy for the victims of 9/11. He never mentioned them even ONCE. In those stories, where the author mentioned the protagonist's experience on that fateful day, it was always about the negative feelings which quickly developed towards the Arabs on and after that horrible event. Mr. Bayoumi never mentions the lives taken on that day and just how W
Jan 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Perspectives from young, Arab Americans living in Brooklyn on what it is like to live in post-9/11 America. The stories expose internal and external conflicts that they wrestle with in regards to gender, discrimination, racial profiling, generational divides, and spirituality.
Zafra Usman
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a pleasant package of a book. Highly reccommend!
Dec 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I don't know... interesting and varied stories of the experiences of young Arab Americans in the early 2000s, but I felt like they could have been integrated together better and contextualized, rather than told separately. The afterward was a key component of the book but really felt like an afterthought. ...more
2018 has gotten off to a slow start, book wise. It's a fact that's disappointing but not really surprising, considering the pace of college life and the hell that this past semester has been. I'm moreso disappointed with myself for not keeping up reviews, but truthfully it's not that hard to catch up when it's May and you've only completed two books, neither of which are fiction. This new pattern is strange for me, the perpetual fiction lover. I've been wanting to incorporate more variety into m ...more
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 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
Max Gordon
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
The topic and material concept is important. It's vital as people to be culturally aware of what others experience around us. Some of the stories I really thought were interesting and thought provoking. My problem with this book, however, is two-fold.

1) The author is not a good writer. Both skill wise and integrity wise. It's a clunky read at times, and the book relies heavily on the retelling of other people's conversations that he wasn't present for.

2) The last story is basically just Islam E
Olfat Sakr
Jun 02, 2013 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
Jenny Belardi
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked this up at the library with some other books recommended in various articles to deal with post-election anxiety. This book defies stereotypes about Arabs in America by telling seven very distinct stories about individual people and their lives. This book really resonated with me and I know I won't forget it any time soon. (I'm also considering ordering a copy off Amazon and sending it to Trump.) ...more
Hiba Shaban
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
This is the book assigned to all incoming freshmen at the University of North Carolina this year, which is great considering they were under scrutiny for assigning another book on the Quran a few years ago. It's a good insight into the life of 7 Arab Americans (one Christian and 6 Muslims of various levels of religiosity) in the aftermath of 9/11 discussing the types of hardships they went through and that Arab Americans still go through today. Would recommend! ...more
Aug 15, 2016 rated it liked it
I didn't love Bayoumi's writing style, but I did enjoy the variety of stories and experiences the book shared. ...more
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