Ahab the Arab?

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If you think you can spot an Arab like a cheap toupee, don't be so sure. In The Washington Post, Richard Morin reports on a study that suggests Americans are pretty rotten at identifying folks from the Middle East:

In tests conducted on the campuses of USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, nearly 100 study participants were shown a series of photos of young people and asked to guess their race or national origin. The images were selected to be a representative sampling of facial types of Asians, blacks, Caucasians, Latinos and people of Middle Eastern descent.

These students were able to correctly identify the ethnicity of Arab Americans only about 27 percent of the time.

Whole thing here.

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  1. I thank you to keep your razor away from my smartass.

  2. I think the whole “Arab-looking” issue will be moot, because I predict the next wave of attackers won’t be middle-eastern. They have plenty of African muslims they can recruit, as well as Indonesia. They also won’t hijack airplanes again anytime soon. Why bother? There are much softer targets.

    I ride the DC subway every day. One morning I noticed an Asian-looking man bobbing his head and mumbling prayers rather loudly from a Koran. He had a medium-sized bag next to him. Paranoid, cautious, close-minded.. whatever.. I got my ass off that car pretty quick.

  3. Are some of these the same students that appear on Jay Leno’s show (when he takes to the streets to talk to folks), and come across as too stupid to have passed high school?

  4. beginning to sound like the dec 21 (?) 1941 NY times story “how to tell your friends from the japs”…

    alllooksame.com…..

    drf

  5. I generally can’t tell Arabs and Mexicans apart unless I have a name or an accent to go by.

    What’s the significance of 20-year-olds not being able to identify Arabs by sight, anyway? The overwhelming majority of Americans can’t tell Chinese and Japanese people apart, either, but it doesn’t seem to affect our relationships with those countries much.

  6. Trust me on this one. Most college students even in the Multicultural Paradise that is L.A. are sheltered middle-class students regardless of their race. That’s described, for instance, here. And, note most frantically, that I’m not bashing my white brothers, as such lack of experience crosses racial lines.

    Note that UCLA is sheltered in the community of Westwood, which is nestled more or less between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. USC is located in a more, er, urban setting. Even so, I doubt whether these students have spent much time travelling around L.A.’s various wonderful ghettoes.

  7. Looks are deceiving. How many of these kids came from whitebread suburby USA where there isn’t that much contact with various folks from exotic place? Most of them wouldn’t know a Pakistani from a Puerto Rican. I am not saying my batting average would be a perfect 10, but I can’t help but think of the numerous Sikh men who have been beaten up because some assholes thought they were Arabs due to the turban on his head. For one thing, I have never seen any Arab man in the US wear a turban…the skullcap (bigger than a yarmulke…covers more of the head) yes, but definitely not a turban. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen an Arab man wear the Yasser Arafat schmatte either. One cannot use looks as the sole criterion for making an identification of someone’s ethnic group. Who knows, that Bangladeshi you might want to blame for something may turn out to be from Belize.

  8. But most cops don’t have any preference for whether their “random searches” single out Chinese or Japanese.

  9. Wacko, I’d suspect that college students at nationally-known schools are probably MORE likely than average to have been around people with different nationalities.

    “What’s the significance of 20-year-olds not being able to identify Arabs by sight, anyway?” How about, there are a lot of people calling for racial profiling, and this one more reason why that’s pointless.

    I wonder if this is how they got Jose Padilla?

  10. I disagree with Lonewacko that “anyone who’s been around a bit more than your average 18-22 year old UCLA student would have a much better score.” A student at UCLA is probably substantially more likely to have been exposed to Arabs, Iranians, people from the Indian subcontinent, etc. than the general American population. I am willing to bet that less than 10% of Americans over 65 would be able to correctly identify the Arabs in the photo series.

  11. Could an Arab tell the difference between an American and a European? European and Russian?
    Chinese and Korean? Could a Japanese tell the difference in Middle Eastern Arabs?

    sigh. This is really a non-story.

  12. This can be interpreted as a good thing. Perhaps people simply don’t care enough to bother figuring out the difference-in other words, on some level, they realize what an uninteresting issue a person’s race is.

    By the way-is there such a thing as too stupid to graduate high school?

  13. I think we should base all our policy decisions on what 20 year olds do or don’t understand.

  14. “By the way-is there such a thing as too stupid to graduate high school?”

    I droped out skool cause free lunch suked balz. ketchup a vejetible? shit

  15. I have an Indian coworker who is often mistaken for black by African Americans. Her skin is darker than many African Americans, but the funny thing is she’s a quarter Portuguese.

    So race is pretty silly, if people who are members of one race can’t even tell who else is.

  16. I have been identified as an Italian, Mexican, Greek and Arab (oh and the n-word, which was random). One woman refused to believe I wasn’t Sicilian even after I told her my name was Mostafa. I would say that UCLA and USC students would be better suited than most people not near Detroit or North NJ at identifying Arabs. There are a lot of Arabs in the LA area.

    Maybe all those white people being profiled at airports are misidentified Arabs. 🙂

  17. thats why we should leave at “brown skin” or “white skin” peoples. (Im not serious, of course)

  18. That doesn’t sound like a fair test; a good “liberal” would allow the subjects to feel their heads for bumps, check their cranial capacity, and the like.

    But, I kid!

    I’m also sure anyone who’s been around a bit more than your average 18-22 year old UCLA student would have a much better score. It might also be funny if, for instance, one of their “Arab-Americans” is a Turk or member of some other specialty group.

  19. “What’s the significance of 20-year-olds not being able to identify Arabs by sight, anyway?”

    How about, there are a lot of people calling for racial profiling, and this one more reason why that’s pointless.

    I haven’t heard anyone calling for a profiling system that consists of untrained 20-year-olds pointing at people and saying “looks like an Arab to me”. So this isn’t “one more reason why it’s pointless”.

    I wonder if this is how they got Jose Padilla?

    So your theory is that the Feds became interested in Abdullah al-Muhajir, a.k.a. Ibrahim Padilla, a.k.a. Jose Padilla, because they mistakenly thought he “looked Arab”, and not because he was a violent criminal, a Muslim, and an associate of known terrorists and terrorist-related organizations?

    Well… it’s an interesting theory, I’ll grant you that. But it doesn’t exactly pass Occam’s Razor, now does it.

  20. How many of these kids came from whitebread suburby USA where there isn’t that much contact with various folks from exotic place?

    Well, it’s UCLA; most of the students are from California. If you grew up in California during the last 20 years, you probably went to school with, and hung out with, and lived near lots of people from lots of different races and ethnicities.

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