Amer Zahr is an Arab-American stand-up comedian and writer. Drawing on his experiences growing up as a child of Palestinian refugees, he finds the humor in everyday cultural situations. As a Palestinian, politics also fall victim to his comedic ways. He has performed on stages and at festivals worldwide, and produced and headlined two of his own comedy tours, "1001 Laughs Comedy Tour" & "We're Not White!" Zahr also writes and speaks widely on political and social affairs, and has appeared on radio and television, including ABC's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.
I was 15 when Aladdin came out, and I thought it was awesome. Finally, Disney made a movie about us. There was Aladdin, our hero, a cute little Arab guy...a fez-wearing, ballad-singing, fair-skinned, bare-chested young man, who jumps around town with an adorable pet monkey. Then there was Jafar, the big bad wicked villain...an olive-skinned, full-bearded, turban-wearing, tall, skinny man with a hook nose, mysterious accent, evil parrot, and a plan to take over the world. Talk about foreshadowing. Jafar was Osama bin Laden before Osama bin Laden was Osama bin Laden. Looking back, that might have been my political awakening, seeing Disney portray our people as either an evil terrorist or some sort of hummus-loving Justin Bieber.
See, as an Arab-American I have dealt with this identity problem my whole life. Am I an Arab? Am I white? Am I both? Can I be? I have lived in America since I was three years old, and as much as I really do love living here and everything that comes with it, I have never felt truly at home. And I have visited the Middle East many times, and as much as I love everything there, I never felt fully at home there either.
Here in America, I see the differences all the time. For instance, when you tell your white friend’s mom that you don’t want anything to eat, she actually doesn’t bring you anything to eat. At my white friend’s house, my politeness only buys me hunger.
But being in the Middle East is just as bewildering. The kids there aren’t like the kids here. Politics affects everyday citizens in the Middle East more than it affects us here. Kids in Ramallah would walk up to me saying "Do you think Obama will get re-elected?" Damn.
As Arab-Americans, we live in a sort of limbo. We don’t belong here, and we don’t belong there. We’re Arabs here, Americans there. And being Arab here is no fun. Now not all of us look like Jafar. I usually get mistaken for being just about everything except Arab. People will guess everything except Arab. Guessing that someone is Arab is just plain insulting. When I inform people of my true heritage, they sometimes say, "Wow, you don’t look Arab." And since I’m polite, I usually reply by saying, "Thank you."
Sometimes I’d rather just be the stuff I get mistaken for. At least if I were Italian, people might ask me questions like, "So, what do you think of the Sopranos?" Now, they ask, "So, what do you think of al-Qaeda?" If I were Greek, seeing me might remind them of something they saw in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Now I just remind them of something they saw on Fox News.
Seriously, who would ever choose Arab over white? I mean, yeah, hummus and grape leaves are better than boiled hot dogs and Hamburger Helper, but that’s about it. See, a white guy might cross the street when black men are approaching cause he’s afraid they might steal his wallet. He crosses when Arabs are coming at him because he’s afraid we might steal his freedom. You won’t kill for your wallet, but you might for your freedom.