Career Counseling with Americans of Arab Descent

Article excerpt

Americans of Arab descent (AAD) comprise a population under heightened scrutiny in contemporary times. Historically, conflicts between the United States and regions of the Arab Middle East (defined here as the collective group of 22 Arab League States: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Sjibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritainia, Morocco, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) have been characterized as rifts between east and west, capitalizing on differences rather than similarities among people and overlooking the common human elements in individu- als' hopes, dreams, aspirations, and values. Mainstream and other media depictions of male Arabs are of barbarians and oil sheiks, with more recent ones of perpetrators of 9-1 1 and other terrorist acts. Their female counterparts are portrayed as unenlightened, passive, and submissive. These stereotypes of Arabs, then, carry over into impressions of AAD, as well. Often unwittingly associ- ated with terrorist and related incidents in the United States and in the world, quite often mistakenly, this group of individuals is col- lectively, at times simultaneously respected, feared, and subjected to acts of discrimination. In short, Arabs and AAD are a misunder- stood people. Due to these reasons, among others, AAD warrant special attention in career development arenas. Like for many other multiculturally diverse populations, career interventions for AAD are optimally effective when formulated and delivered in cultur- ally appropriate context. In the following article, we will review key definitions and demographics relevant for Americans of Arab descent (AAD), present information about Arab culture and values in the United States, and discuss career development and world of work issues germaine to this population in today's world. After set- ting the context, we will review relevant career theories and high- light effective strategies and techniques for working with AAD, provide case examples and corresponding analyses, and conclude with implications and conclusions for career counseling professionals.

Definitions & Demographics

There are several important misconceptions around AAD and related populations. It is important for culturally sensitive career counselors to be aware of distinctions, subtle as they may seem, in order to best understand clients who are AAD. The first of these distinctions is the differentiation between the terms Arab and Middle Eastern, which are not interchangeable. The term Middle East is a concept originated by the United States and other western entities to describe a vast geographic region that encompasses a broader area than the League of Arab States, and in fact, does not fully encompass the Arab League States, which spans Asia and countries in both northern as well as sub-Saharan Africa. The Middle East, in fact, includes countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey, to mention a few, that are not Arab countries by any definition. It has been a term employed by the United States Census and other groups in the recent decade to limit immigration from those regions and to profile individuals from and with ancestry from both the Arab States as well as those from the greater Middle East. The second key distinction is between the terms Arab and Muslim, which are often also used synonymously. Like the terms discussed above, the motivation at times for the lack of differentiation of these two groups is again, political, which at times can be either detrimental or beneficial to the AAD population, depending on the present purpose (such as making a case for representation by population size, which, in and of itself, could be either detrimental or beneficial). In career and other counseling, it is critical to distinguish Muslim and Arab clients. Some may be Muslim Arabs (or Arab Americans, or AAD), but others may be AAD but be nonMuslim, while many others still might be Muslim with countries of origin in the greater Middle East or elsewhere entirely. …