The Book

Cover of "How Does it Feel to Be a Problem" by Moustafa Bayoumi. Just over a century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: “How does it feel to be a problem?” he asked. Today, Arab and Muslim Americans, the newest minorities in the American imagination, are the latest “problem” of American society, and their answers to Du Bois’s question increasingly define what being American means today.

In a wholly revealing portrait of a community that lives next door and yet a world away, Moustafa Bayoumi introduces us to the individual lives of seven twentysomething men and women living in Brooklyn, home to the largest number of Arab Americans in the United States. Through telling real stories about young people in Brooklyn, Bayoumi jettisons the stereotypes and clichés that constantly surround Arabs and Muslims and allows us instead to enter their worlds and experience their lives. We meet Rasha, Sami, Lina, Akram, Yasmin, Omar and Rami and discover through them often-unseen entanglements: government surveillance and detentions, workplace discrimination, warfare in their countries of origin, threats of vigilante violence, the infiltration of spies and informants into their midst, and the disappearance of friends or family. Their richly told stories connect us to their quests for meaning, from falling in love to finding God, and we feel their triumphs and watch them stumble along the way. As their lives turn on the winds of global conflicts, these young Arab Americans manage the major issues of our day while forging the contours of our future society. What the stories in this book prove is that the fight for equality and the commitment to compassion are as necessary today as ever, if not more so.

Moustafa Bayoumi immerses his reader in a reality at once inconceivable and achingly familiar to unveil an unforgettable American story of race, religion, and civil rights, full of struggle, promise and hope.

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Special thanks to the 2017 Selection Committee for their time and dedication to the Carolina Summer Reading Program.

2017 CSRP Selection Committee Member Campus Role
Rita Balaban, Chair Senior Lecturer, Economics
Brian Hogan Research Assistant Professor, Biochemistry Education & Undergraduate Research Skills Development
Kate DiCato Coordinator for Conduct, Department of Housing and Residential Education
Dawna Jones Student Assistance Coordinator, Office of the Dean of Students
Suchi Mohanty Head of Undergraduate Library
Jessica Chen 2nd year student, Global Studies and Peace, War, and Defense Major
Tiyobi Maereg 2nd year student, Psychology Major
Anne Bennett Osteen 4th year student, English and Business Administration Major