Being Arab: what it is and is not


Being Arab means the most distinguishing factor about you to other people is precisely the fact that you are Arab. 

Your friends, coworkers and classmates will most likely refer to you as “the Arab,” and upon learning of your heritage, they will become only interested in showering you with questions about your culture. 

In short, being Arab becomes your sole identifier — the single, most important part of you to other people. 

Of course this fixation does not come without its fair share of inaccurate stereotyping. Much of it stems from pure ignorance combined with pop-culture’s misrepresentation of Arabs. 

Arabs are often portrayed as a mysterious spectacle. People do not want to know what being Arab is beyond what they see in the media and they accept these stereotypes to feel at peace with a culture they do not truly understand.

So for those who are curious, here are some truths about common Arab misconceptions. 

For one, no, we are not all suicide bombers or terrorists, nor are all Arabs Muslims or all Muslims Arabs — and certainly, those who truly follow the Islamic religion condemn the heinous actions of terrorists.  

We are also not all billionaires. This wild notion that we all have “oil money” or “Arab money” is completely unfounded. Arabic countries have some of the highest income inequalities in the world.

Being Arab also does not automatically mean we have arranged marriages. I remember growing up and being taunted with questions about whether I ‘have a choice’ in who I wish to marry. To those who are wondering: I do have choice. In fact — and I know many may find this shocking — I can even choose to not get married at all. 

And no, we are not belly dancers or harem girls. Aladdin is an inaccurate portrayal of life in the Middle East that fetishizes Arabic women — just like most Hollywood movies involving Arabs.  

Fortunately, domestic abuse is not a cornerstone of our culture — men are not taught to beat their wives and Arab women have more rights than most would think. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Middle East is far more than just a desert with oil. We do not drive camels to the market or live in tents like nomads. Trust me, the movies make us seem far more barbaric than we actually are. 

We don’t all have perfect olive complexion or are recipients of thick dark hair genes. Some of us are blonde and have colored eyes with very light or dark skin tones. 

We are just humans, the same as you. We are more than our Arab blood and false stereotypes. We are beautifully unique individuals. Hopefully one day the world will be able to see this too. 


Allaa Tayeb is a sophomore majoring in English and film studies.