Arab American National MuseumBy Professor Evelyn Alsultany

Welcome to the Arab American National Museum’s online exhibit, Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes. This exhibit has been in the works at the AANM for quite a few years. It taps into one of our core values of educating the larger public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arabs and Arab Americans.

This exhibit highlights the pervasive misrepresentations of Arabs and Arab Americans in U.S. popular culture over the last century. The exhibit aims to reveal that representations are not just make-believe images, but rather, they have a significant impact in shaping government policies and on the quality of human life.

The exhibit is organized in three parts. In part one, Who Are Arab Americans, we invite you to explore the diverse history of Arab American immigration to the U.S. as well as the various aspects of living in America, and notable Arab Americans.

Part two begins with Popular Perceptions of Arabs and Arab Americans, which reveals a discrepancy between how Arabs and Arab Americans are often perceived in the U.S. and who they actually are in their diversity as human beings (as shown in part one). Here we display public opinion polls and remarks by leaders, scholars, and pundits that reveal a widespread association of Arabs and Muslims with terrorism and religious extremism.

Part three, Why the Stereotypes?, addresses this discrepancy by examining the history of representations of Arabs in popular culture – from early European Orientalist paintings and photographs, to more recent depictions in Hollywood films and children’s stories. Here the online exhibit also briefly considers how other groups - Asian Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Jews - have been stereotyped in U.S. popular culture in order to point to a recurring phenomenon of Othering that is not unique to the case of Arabs. We end the exhibit by considering the impact of these images on people’s lives and society in general.

As you move through the exhibit, we invite to join in to the discussion by commenting on our blog. We look forward to your feedback in our aim to reclaim Arab identity by dismantling stereotypes.


This site looks great but you

This site looks great but you might want to consider putting together a movable exhibit that could travel to museums and libraries. I saw such an exhibit put together by a Jewish group and I thought, this is what the Arabs need. It would educate the young and anyone who didn't know about your online site.


Thanks for your comment!

The original intent actually was to have a physical exhibit that would travel. Unfortunately, for many reasons, we have not been able to make it happen. It is still a possibility, but having the exhibit online means it is available to everyone around the world (with an internet connection) at any time of the day!

-Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan
AANM Curator