A reflection of my ethnic identity in an American world


Fun fact, I’m Lebanese. You may or may not know this if you know me. I always wear a Lebanon bracelet on my wrist and I frequently eat Mediterranean food. Hummus? Kibbeh? Tahini? Grape leaves? I eat all of that quite frequently. I am very proud of my heritage and I love to talk about it whenever I can.

So if you were to walk up to me and call me a “white Arab,” then, to put it mildly, I would be livid.

Let me make one thing clear right off the bat. Lebanese people are not Arabs. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural civilization. Although Arabs are among the most notable of the ethnicities and cultures that influenced Lebanon, that does not mean Lebanese people are Arabs.

In the Lebanese population, there are people who have Arabic ancestry. Some have Iranian ancestry. Others have Greek ancestry. This does not mean Lebanese people are Arab, Iranian, Greek, etc.

We are predominantly descended from the Phoenicians. We’re an Eastern Mediterranean nation and our ancestry is mainly Euro-Levantine (which means that while there are many dark-skinned Lebanese, there is also a fair amount of white-skinned Lebanese as well). The Levant area is the cross-section between Africa, Asia and Europe. It’s a very diverse region and it is the gate of the East to the West.

With all of that said, there is absolutely nothing wrong about being an Arab if you are one. But it is important to remember history and to know our identity.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it is incredibly lazy, incorrect and denigrating to reduce a diverse people (and region for that matter) as one label. Far too often I’ve seen depictions of the Middle East reduced to broad generalizations. They’re all Muslim terrorists. They’re all ISIS. They hate America. They’re always at war with each other. Their cities are warzones.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel proud of my heritage in America. I remember I used to be told not to tell anyone that I was Lebanese. As a young child I did not understand why, and it wasn’t until late middle school I finally understood. In America, especially in the mid-2000s, anyone who is Middle Eastern could be a terrorist.

It is unfortunate that many Middle Easterners still get profiled, with refugees receiving the brunt of national scorn. The reasoning is that since terrorists could hide amongst refugees, it is justified to dehumanize them. It is also important to note that some people who are seen as “ethically ambiguous,” such as Sikhs, can also be targets of said prejudice due to their wearing of turbans. Being a white Lebanese and a practicing Maronite Catholic has allowed me to escape much of this persecution.

I do feel for the refugees though. Most are just trying to escape war and come here for a better life for themselves and their children. They don’t necessarily want to come here, they come here for the necessity of survival. From my own understanding, my family came over from Lebanon several decades ago to escape the civil war.

The funny thing is that I would actually love to visit Lebanon. There is so much rich history there. The capital, Beirut, used to be known as the “Paris of the Middle East” in the 1960s. Just over a decade ago was the Cedar Revolution, a revolution that was notable for its nonviolent approach to removing Syrian occupation, and the movement managed to achieve all of its goals without violence.

However, I’ve always been led to believe that Lebanon is an incredibly unsafe place, despite knowing that several of my friends have made trips to Lebanon. Regardless, going to Lebanon is one of the things to cross off my bucket list before I die, even if I have to do it by myself.

One thing I’ve always been self-conscious about is if I would even be accepted over there. Sure, there is a sizable population of white, Maronite Catholic Lebanese, but would I truly be seen as someone with Lebanese ancestry? Or would I be just another white American?

After much reflection on it, the color of my skin does not make me less valid. I’m mixed ethnicity. I’m Lebanese. It’s part of who I am. I won’t hide from it anymore.