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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem: Discussion Questions

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Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think this book was selected as the 2017 Carolina Summer Reading Program selection?
  2. What surprised you most reading this book? Were there any misconceptions you personally had about Arabs or Muslims that were addressed?
  3. Which of the individuals profiled here did you most identify with? Why?
  4. Discuss your impressions of Brooklyn. In what ways do you think the story would have been different if the author had chosen another location?
  5. Several people in the book mention either passing as Hispanic or another nationality (ethnicity?).  What does it mean to pass as another nationality or ethnicity? Why would an Arab American wish to pass as another nationality or ethnicity? Why would an Arab American not wish to pass as another nationality or ethnicity?
  6. The author discussed the phenomenon of “middlemen minorities” (p. 122). What are some other examples? How do you think you would fare working extremely hard for a specific, and sometimes short-term, payoff?
  7. If you’d been on the bus with Yasmin, would you have defended the woman with the baby? How could that situation have been handled differently?
  8. Omar discusses people’s reaction to his working for Al Jazeera. What is your impression of or opinion about his job search? Have you heard about Arab Americans or Muslim Americans facing workplace discrimination? What would you do if you believed your coworker or classmate was being discriminated against either in the workplace or the classroom? 
  9. Discuss the similarities between the “problem” presented in this text and the historical problems of prejudice in this country against African Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans. What about differences? How do you see the future of Arabs and Muslims in America? What’s our next step?
  10. It is suggested that Congress will eventually have to apologize to Arab Americans for the government’s treatment of them post-9/11. Do you foresee that happening? If so, when? Recall that congress did not officially apologize for slavery until July of 2008. If the government did eventually try to make amends, what would be suitable?

The majority of discussion questions appear in the back of How Does it Feel to be a Problem? and were written by Penguin Random House, found here. A few additions have been made to update the questions which were published with the book in 2008.



Arab Americans: Arab Americans share a common language and heritage and can trace their family origins to geographic areas outside of the Untied states that encompass 22 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and southwestern Asia. They practice many religions, including Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) as well as Islam (El-Aswad, E, 2013, Arab Americans in the Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia).

Muslim Americans: "Muslim Americans are U.S. citizens and residents who adhere to the religion of Islam. They comprise diverse communities that embrace African Americans, converts, and immigrants from every part of the world, especially from the Middle East and South Asia (El-Aswad, E, 2013, Muslim Americans in the Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia).

Oppression: "Oppression describes any unjust situation where, systematically and over a long period of time, one group denies another group access to the resources of society" (Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought p. 4).