Decade in race, all brown people are the same

By Razib Khan | December 31, 2009 11:46 pm

Noticed a piece at The Root, The Decade in Race: WTF Was That?:

After the tragedy of 9/11, Arab American stereotypes morph from harmless convenient store owner to new American nigger. The Simpsons’ Apuh is suddenly nowhere near as funny

There really needed to be more said here. The convenience store owners were not usually Arab (though some were), generally, they were South Asian, most often Indian American. “Apuh” (it’s spelled Apu, no “h”) is an Indian American, and is depicted as Hindu on The Simpsons. Also, on the order of 50%* of Arab Americans aren’t Muslim, they’re Christian. Like the governor of Indiana, or Ralph Nader. In other words, a disproportionate amount of prejudice directed against “Arabs” is actually directed against Muslims who dress visibly in a way that marks them as Muslim, no matter their ethnicity, and South Asians who are more visibly non-white than most Arabs, especially Sikhs who “dress like Arabs.”
It is possible that the author of the above piece in The Root knows all this, and he was simply pointing to the fact that Indian Americans and South Asians generally are perceived as Arab, despite reality that they aren’t. But this detail should probably have been stated explicitly, since broad swaths of the public are totally unaware of this.
* The usual assertion is that the majority of Arab Americans are Christian, but the data I’ve seen suggests to me that there is a strong likelihood that sometime in the teens of the 21st century a majority of self-identified Arab Americans (as opposed to those with some Arab ancestry) are likely to be Muslim.

  • Clark

    I’m confused at the latter comment. Are you saying a lot of Arab Americans simply don’t self-identify as Arab? I can understand that I suppose – especially with mixed marriages and for 3rd or 4th generation people. For instance I have considerable laplander in me but I don’t self-identify as laplander. (Not that most Americans care about pre-20th century immigration racial diversity from Europe)
    Are active muslims more apt to self-identify as Arabs? I’d assume so but it would be an interesting study to see. Given the place of Arabia in Islam I suspect it would maintain its character longer in self-identity.

  • razib

    clark, i’m talking about intermarriage and the dominant pattern of current waves of intermarriage. the vast majority of arab immigrants circa 1900 were levantine christians. the majority today are muslim. because of intermarriage i think it is likely that most people with any arab ancestry will be christian for the indefinite future, but people who are 1/4 or 1/8 arab are probably less likely to self-identify as *arab american* as those who are the children of immigrants.

  • Clark

    OK. Thanks for the clarification. I’d actually read that article when it first came out and it really bugged the hell out of me too.
    Regarding the more interesting question of self identity I wonder why some groups are more apt to self identify than others. African Americans are the obvious choice. Clearly there is a lot of pressure to self-identify black – and not just racially but socially which has led to friction at times between longer term African Americans and actual African Americans.
    With other groups there has some times been the pressure (I can recall some furious discussions second gen Asians had with family). And while self identification is reasonably high it’s not what I’d expect. Of course the communities are quite different and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see intermarriages rates as being quite different over time. (Ive no idea on the actual statistics)
    Of couse the obvious intuition is that groups with some physical or religious difference will tend to maintain a big sense of social difference. i.e. The Jewish or Italian communities over the 20th century. How many descendents of mixed marriages with secular Jews still consider themselves Jewish? How many 2cd or 3rd generation children of mixed marriages with native Americans noticing in a largely homogenous native community still self identify? Most I’ve known are still proud of it but treat it more like I treat my Swedish ancestry rather than the way the afore mentioned groups do.

  • Matt

    As someone from Britain I have to say it does feel peculiar and unintuitive to conglomerate South Asians and people from the Middle East (let alone Hispanics) into a “brown” group or would confuse the two.
    This is obviously due to the fact that South Asians are a larger relative minority in the UK and are more of a novelty in a less diverse country and are associated with large population waves (rather than slow but continuous) and so gain more media attention, so please don’t take this as grandstanding of any kind.
    Of course, there is still a minority in the UK who would think of this as a valid grouping (“wogs”, &c.) but I really think that this would seem bizarre to most people in the UK.

  • jimi izrael

    Sadly, there isn’t alot of geo-political conversation going on in the ‘hood. Most of the brown or yellow store owner just want to get you out of the store quickly and don’t divulge their ethnic orgins. In the inner city, everyone who isn’t black or white is “other.” It’s hard, but it’s fair.

  • Clark

    How on earth is that fair?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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