in Sources of U.S. Culture
MARSHA J. HAMILTON
The Middle East is seldom out of the news. Civil unrest, terrorism, and volatile political personalities all reinforce many Americans' negative mental image of the Arab world, the Arab people, and Islam. In ignorance, many Americans think of Arabs, Turks, and Iranians as one ethnic group; forget that not all Arabs are Muslims; and fail to understand that peoples in the Middle East are as diverse as those found in the United States.
How the U.S. depicts other cultures may say more about our own fears and values than about the culture represented. Many American images of other peoples have their source in European, especially British, popular culture. For hundreds of years, Europeans and Americans have viewed the Arab Middle East in terms of a few unchanging stereotypical images: the wealthy sheikh, the harem beauty, the religious fanatic, or the downtrodden peasant. These images were common in colonial America; yet despite massive social change in the Arab world, they remain virtually unchanged in U.S. popular culture today.
Literature on the image of Arabs in U.S. culture agrees on two points: the images are stereotypes and the images are negative. Adjectives such as "lazy," "dirty," "backward," "oversexed," "fanatical," "violent" and "greedy" have been applied at different stages of U.S. history to groups including African-Americans, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, the Irish, Jews and Native-Americans. As each group fights the discrimination that is a direct result of stereotypes and sensitizes the U.S. public to that particular group's plight, another ethnic or social group takes its place in the role of the villain. The decline of the Cold War and the newly-polished image of Russia and the surrounding regions have been matched by a parallel increase in vilification of the Arab.
By the time children are four years old, they have begun the process of assimilating stereotypical images from television. This
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Publication information: Book title: Food for Our Grandmothers:Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists. Contributors: Joanna Kadi - Editor. Publisher: South End Press. Place of publication: Boston. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 259.
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