Arab American Talk Radio — creating a national dialogue

One of the biggest problems facing the American Arab community is discrimination. American Arabs are discriminated against. It started long before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but really jumped after Israel's creation in 1948. It's been growing steadily, worse today than ever before.

The simple fact is Americans still don't really know who we are. American Arabs have been in this country since the middle of the 19th Century. We served in the military. We live in the same neighborhoods. We work at all the same jobs and professions. Yet there seems to be a dichotomy between us as Americans and us a individuals with a cultural heritage.

Americans seem to love us as the people they meet -- when they meet us and get to know us. But polls shows that most Americans do not share our same views, especially on politics.

Why is that?

I think a major part of it has to do with ourselves. Our failure to educate others in our words about who we are. I am not saying we don't try. We constantly are trying to convince Americans of the justice of our cause. What I am saying is that we are not very good at it. Americans support those that they feel comfortable with and that they are familiar with. Familiarity and comfort are really subjective. They represent feelings. If Americans feel "good" about you, they will almost always feel good about what you believe and tell them. If they feel uncomfortable with you, or view you as being "different" or "strange" or "unfamiliar," then they will be distant from your views.

It's a fundamental of communications. The more and better you know someone, the more likely they will be your friend. The more they are your friend, the more they will fight for your cause. Fighting for your cause requires them to accept it.

Arabs are an extremely friendly people. But we are also emotional. Worse, we really don't know how to communicate professionally to overcome the obstacles that prevent the kind of public support that our causes deserve.

We're just like the average American but we are viewed as if we were from another planet.

Why? Because we can't seem to overcome our inability to communicate in an effective manner. Communication doesn't mean talking. It doesn't mean speaking English. It means understanding how to identify and target an audience, then create a bond with the audience, and then deliver your message to the audience.

That means you don't walk up to a stranger and start screaming about Palestine and then blame them.

That's what many of us do. We don't think we are screaming, but in the eyes of the audience, it is a scream. And Americans don't like screaming, unless they are on your side and are screaming with you.

We Arabs are American, yet we act like we're not.

We need to start acting like Americans. That means putting the issues that are important to us on the backburner. We shouldn't "lead" with the issue that is of most concern to us. We should instead know and identify what is most important to the audience, the average American, and make that our priority. We should be the leader in fighting for civil rights in America, if we hope to win over American support for civil rights of Palestinians. We need to establish our credentials with Americans before we can ask them to embrace our causes.

That takes work. It seems like it might take a long time. But, we have been here more than 175 years and had we started that then, we would be in an entirely different predicament.

One of the fastest ways to bridge the disconnect is through the news media. That's why activists and supporters of Israel and our enemies fight so hard to exclude us from the mainstream American news media. They know that the media is powerful and they want to keep us outside of the circle. The Society of Professional Journalists has become a lobbying arm of the anti-Arab movement, preventing American Arabs from achieving promotion in the profession and limited American Arab journalists to mainstream topics and excluding us from the debate over Israel.

Why are there not more American Arab columnists writing columns for local American newspapers? There is a large community of Arabs and Middle Eastern non-Arabs in the Detroit region, for example, and the two newspapers there have American Arab reporters working on their staffs. So WHY do the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press NOT HAVE columnists writing on a daily basis who are American Arab?

Whose fault is that? Their fault for being unprofessional? Or maybe it is our fault for not recognizing that goal as being a priority.

My colleagues, Ali Younes and Laila Alhussini co-host radio programs in the Detroit region broadcasting on the brockered radio station WNZK AM 690 every week Monday through Friday. On Monday through Thursday, Laila hosts "Good Morning Michigan" in Arabic. And on Friday, Ali and I co-host Radio Baladi in English. The number of listeners who want to hear the Arab perspective on the Middle East and even other non-Middle East issues is staggering. We are overwhelmed with calls to the radio show. The shows are broadcast live. Soon, they will be broadcast on satellite television.

Yet many in the Arab community don't recognize how important the radio program really is. They take it for granted.

Arabs tend to put more into fighting among themselves than they do standing up to the "enemy" and those who hate us. It's easier sometimes to fight among yourselves, rather than to fight to defend your community.

We hope to change that. Each week we discuss topics in the news and podcast them (http://rayhanania.podbean.com) so that those who cannot hear the shows live can hear the audio broadcasts later as "podcasts."

We need to do more, including supporting this writers online news site, Arabisto. Arabisto is one of the best places to engage Americans and have an internal and external discussion about issues. We need to support it and also support tolerance of differing viewpoints.

Without tolerance, we cannot have true effective communications. And, without true effective communications, we can't have success.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian columnist. Reach him at www.hanania.com.)

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About R. Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian journalist, columnist, author and standup comedian. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Chicago Sun-Times for his groundbreaking series on the Palestinian Intifada in 1990, he has won Four (4) Society of Professional Journalism Lisagor Awards and was named Best Ethnic American Columnist by the New America Media in November 2006. In 2010, he won the SPJ Sigma Delta Chi National Award for writing. Hanania’s journalism and communications career is extensive. A former Chicago City Hall political reporter for 17 years, Hanania is the president of Urban Strategies Group media and consulting. He is a syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate and writes every Sunday for the Saudi Gazette Newspaper and Al Arabiya. In Broadcast media, Hanania co-hosts the live radio talk show "Radio Baladi" with columnist Ali Younes every Friday morning at 8 AM EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit. Hanania has authored eight books including the humor book "I'm Glad I look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America" (1996), and he is the contributor in seven books including “Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History” which features his Palestinian food recipes as well as experiences growing up Arab in America. He also authored "Arabs of Chicagoland" (2005). In addition to journalism, Hanania is also the Palestinian standup comedian who has performed around the world including in Beirut, Dubai, London, Dublin, Palestine, Israel, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and for universities across the United States and Canada. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com and at www.Hanania.com/ Reach him by email at [email protected]

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