What does it mean to be "Arab-looking"?
October 5, 2001 11:30 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean to be "Arab-looking"? Arabs are perceived to have olive complexions, dark eyes and black hair. But that generalization could not be more wrong, according to Gordon Newby, executive director of Emory's Institute for Comparative and International Studies. "Arabs can be tall, short, light skinned, dark skinned, curly haired, straight haired, dark eyed, light eyed, black haired, red haired."
posted by Rastafari (12 comments total)
Let's all play "Find The Terrorist".
posted by SenshiNeko at 11:55 PM on October 5, 2001

Least anyone gets the wrong idea, the point of this post is NOT to target someone based on their "looks." I thought the Atlanta-Constitution article did that pretty well.
posted by Rastafari at 12:10 AM on October 6, 2001

Hah. My family couldn't get any more Hispanic(not counting some weird thing about my eyes' coloration that is apparently supposed to be exclusively Asiatic), but something about my appearance makes people often completely misplace me and think I'm Middle-Eastern, usually guessing Arabic.
As someone who grew up in a very diversified city, I can tell you that appearance only counts for so much. You need to watch for more specific cultural clues to even try and venture a guess at a person's background, and even then, those mannerisms could just be adopted.
posted by Su at 1:21 AM on October 6, 2001

When I dye my hair black I am often asked if I'm Iranian or Lebanese. I'm not. Then again, I've been told I speak English really well considering I'm an "ethnic"... um... Excuse me, I was born here in Australia, thank you.
posted by eclectic glamazon at 4:20 AM on October 6, 2001

what does it mean to be jesus looking?
posted by asok at 4:59 AM on October 6, 2001

Actually, when I was living in an area with a fairly large Middle Eastern population, I often got plugged as being "an Arab"--by Arabs. Way wrong. Now, people think I'm from Eastern Europe, which, while true to my actual genetics, is nevertheless quite a shift. (Apparently I don't look "American," whatever that would be...)
posted by thomas j wise at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2001

i've been mistaken for middle-eastern for as long as i can remember. it never bothered me except for middle school when my supposed friends and peers thought it was funny to call me camel jockey. those were a hard two years. i'm really a mix of many cultures. my father being from panama is half french, part jamaican, and part latin. my mother born in the states is half german, part french, part scottish, and part english. the result of which is me, who doesn't look anywhere near having a part "white" background, but is usually thought of as being middle-eastern, indian, or latin. i was even thought to be black by some, which i found quite interesting. so now when people ask, i just tell them im exotic and then usually start laughing.
posted by physics at 10:27 AM on October 6, 2001

I've always liked the term ethnomutt *grin*
posted by Su at 1:18 PM on October 6, 2001

I'm dark-skinned, dark-eyed and dark-haired with severe features, and the ethnicities people have guessed for me have included: Indian, Israeli, Lebanese, Mexican, Persian, Polish, Portugese, Roumanian, Russian, Spanish, and I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting. I think that if I were to say that I was half [any country not in Western Europe, East Asia, or Africa], people would believe me.

I'm actually a second-generation Canadian, with roots in Israel, Russia, Roumania, Germany and Poland. Incidentally, during the last four weeks I've had more people ask me my ethnicity than I have in one month as a tourist in Israel several years ago. Judging from the political climate on my campus, I wonder if I'm really just being paranoid when i feel like that question is just another way to say, "Is it okay for me to tell you an offensive Arab joke/rant about how Israel brought this all on?"
posted by isomorphisms at 3:23 PM on October 6, 2001

Myth says there was a time of Babel. The people were of all sizes, shapes and colors. They were so proud of themselves that they thought they could build a tower so high it would touch the face of God. The tower of Babel rose into the sky. They kept adding to it and building from it until it precariously swayed, and fell under its own weight.

The next morning everyone in Babel spoke differently. People who had been friends and even family all their lives were suddenly unable to understand one another, so naturally misunderstanding erupted into frustration and then hatred. People were forced to turn to strangers, only to learn that those more like themselves physically were better able to talk to one another. So dark-skinned, dark-haired people rallied together and fought against those who were different. Those who were misunderstood. Eventually lines were drawn, lies and rumors were spread on all sides about how those "others" were spawn of evil, some groups won fights over others, rewrote history in their favor, and humanity has been disjointed and dysfunctional ever since.

I'm probably fuzzy on the details, but the myth goes something like that. I hope the sacrifice of two towers of Babel continues to turn all that dysfunction around, but it won't happen overnight. Rome wasn't built in a day, either.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:06 PM on October 6, 2001

My mother is Lebanese. Her mother had red hair and blue eyes. That whole side of my family is catholic, and were converted in the mountains of Lebanon over 200 years ago. Many western European missionaries settled in Lebanon and Syria, so it is not really surprising that some of us don't look like "Arabs".
posted by culberjo at 8:26 PM on October 6, 2001

All this reminds me of poet Elena Georgiou's "A Week in the Life of the Ethnically Indeterminate."
posted by allaboutgeorge at 2:47 PM on October 7, 2001

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