When I was asked to write a piece about what it means to be an Arab and Arab pride I was stumped. I’m labelled as an Arab and I don’t know why. Something about this assignment seems meaningless. How relevant is it, really? Why does it matter?
What have I done to be categorized as an Arab? Pondering this, I fell into that philosophical, introspective, existential internal debate that left me annoyed af. Kind of like when you’re standing in the line for cinema snacks and can’t decide between nachos and popcorn. Both?
So how are we defining Arabness? By birthplace maybe? Well, I wasn’t born in the Middle East. By passport? But so many people who identify as Arab have passports from non-Arab countries. Family origins? OK fine, check, but technically we also hail from Southern Iran. How about my mentality? I have been praised for being “extremely open- minded for an Arab” by non-Arabs and denounced for being “too free” for an Arab by some die-hard Arabs. Religion? Well, religion and race are two different things.
Maybe my Arabness is about where I live… Does that even make sense today where most people live in a somewhat transient state? OK, how about language? My Arabic definitely isn’t proficient, my brothers speak zero Arabic, and many other non-Arabs speak it far better than I do. Maybe my Arabness is defined by the company I keep? But I have friends from all over the world. Clothing? Mostly westernized and non- traditional. Education? International/European. Food? Sushi please. Perhaps it’s characteristics? Like modesty or hospitality or perseverance – oh I know, gender roles?! No that doesn’t make sense… Can I be from the Middle East but not Arab? How about political views? Let’s. Not. Even.
There is so much diversity within the Arab world that it doesn’t even make sense to classify people based on based on arbitrary lines drawn by someone on a map. Even culture is subject to change as soon as one ballsy person becomes a cultural outlier. Traditions are constantly changing with the advent of technology and the freedom of travel. My three siblings and I all grew up in the same ‘Arab’ household, but we are so different in our “Arabness”.
So how can one measure what Arabness is when everyone’s one version seems true to them? Think about someone from Morocco or Saudi Arabia or a person of Iraqi origins living in Sweden – each of them interpret Arabness in their own way are none or all of them wrong? If I start to think of Arabness in a spectrum, someone on one end could seem more “Chinese” whereas someone on the other end could be more “Latin American.” Is there anything that unifies us all? See? Existential as fuck.
I’ve wracked my mind trying to loop in my experiences with my identity as an Arab. I know I comfortably identify as a heterosexual female, a researcher, an independent thinker (at times overly so), an athlete, an animal- lover and other things. These are paths I have chosen for myself, passions I have actively engaged in, not something somebody told me I should be, should act like or should represent.