Are We Close to Seeing An Arab-American National Leader?


A recent study by a Washington based think-tank, Center for American Progress (CAP) had some revealing data on the changing demographics in the U.S., and it re-affirms the fact that the racial and ethnic makeup in the country is changing. The question remains, how much of this will reflect in the leadership of the U.S.? Will there be more leaders of significance from the minority communities, in particular the Arab-American community? I believe that this will be case, and shifting demographics are only part of the reason. 

Here are some interesting statistics from CAP that demonstrate that the demographics in America are changing towards a more racially diverse population. Some key highlights of this data:

- 14.6% of all new marriages are inter-racial marriages

- The number of people who identify as “bi-racial” has gone up by 32% since 2000 

I believe with increased diversity and given the immigrant history of the U.S, we will see greater acceptance of minorities, and specifically, Arab-American. While the opposing trend of racial hatred and ethnic exclusion may also rise, as we saw in the recent presidential election, when President Obama was specifically attacked because he was lack and also right-wing propagandists followed up on their attacks, which they started in 2008, he won because the American character intrinsically values talent, diversity and hard work.

I believe we are witnessing the rise of new role models who look very different from the typical white caucasian male that we are used to – an image that the media would have us believe is the one representative of a “leader.” A recent comment by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal about Arab-Americans is telling. Speaking to a gathering of Arab-Americans, He is reported to have said: "You have proven that Arabs can be successful, and not only that, to be ahead of other ethnic groups."

Here is a list of over 40 who’s who in American sports, academia, politics,of people with Middle Eastern ancestry. While this leaves out a few others, who are not as famous as the people mentioned, this list is definitely representative of many of the movers and shakers in American public life. The Arab American Institute has compiled this list a while ago and it includes people such as Steve Jobs, Salma Hayek, Sen. George Mitchell, Diane Rehm, Frank Zappa, Ralph Nader, among others.

Steve Jobs stands out as one of the most famous Americans of Syrian ancestry. As this article in Huffington Post points out, Jobs‘s father was Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian national, who came to the U.S in the 1950s’s. He was abandoned by his father, since he was born out of wedlock. Though he never met his father and he personally never made a show of his remote ancestry, Syrians claimed Jobs as their own, after the discovery that he had Syrian roots.

Race and ethnicity have always been explosive issues in America. While the Civil Rights movement made sure that African-Americans were included in society, equality remains a distant dream. As Amitai Etzioni has pointed out in his writings, we continue to dream for equality for all and have laws ensconced to protect people of color, there is also uneasiness with what some people consider reverse discrimination. As he points in his essay in American Scholar: "Courts have limited its scope, politicians have made hay by opposing it and some of its beneficiaries feel that their successes are hollow because they are unsure whether their gains reflect hard-won achievements or special favors."

Despite the larger debates about race and ethnicity in our society, the daily successes and struggles of ordinary people give us reason to hope. Hollywood and media stereotypes notwithstanding, I believe the coming generation will see the rise of more Arab and Arab-American role models in America. With a long history of association, cultural and political exchange, it is but natural that there will be greater acceptance of the “other.”

Hind Sahli of Morocco and Hanaa ben Abdesslem from Tunisia, are the new super-models from the Arab world. They have not only defied stereotypes and made way for more Arabs in the public imagination, but also are very proud of their heritage. Need more proof of the emerging Arab role-models?