How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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Akram Character Analysis

The subject of Bayoumi’s fourth portrait, a Palestinian American college student who works at his family’s grocery store in a largely Caribbean neighborhood of Brooklyn. In high school, he is gregarious and popular, but he feels increasingly vilified and disconnected from the community where he lives in the years after September 11. When he goes to Palestine for a summer, he discovers a deep sense of connection to and pride in his heritage, but also feels exasperated at Palestinians’ mistreatment by the occupying Israeli military. He decides that he will have better financial, cultural, and social opportunities in Dubai than in the United States, and is planning his move there as of the book’s publication. Bayoumi sees Akram’s story as “about trying to figure your way in a world of progressive disenchantment”; his decision to leave the United States suggests that, at least for Muslims, it has failed to live up to its promise as an inclusive, multicultural land of opportunity.

Akram Quotes in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? quotes below are all either spoken by Akram or refer to Akram. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? published in 2008.
Akram Quotes

What do you do when everything and everyone—from teachers to TV—is screaming that you and your culture just don't belong? You have to come up with your own solutions, and Akram has found his answer. He's quitting the United States and heading to Dubai, a newfound land of opportunity, a global oasis of modern wealth done up Arabic style. Dubai. It's the latest Arab-American dream.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Akram
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

He's a curious mix that isn't so strange in Brooklyn, equally at home with Arabs, African Americans, and West Indians. He's a twenty-first-century United States American, absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding him. What he loves most about Brooklyn is this heady human geography.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Akram
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

American idiom: “IN ALLAH WE TRUST. EVERYONE ELSE MUST PAY—NO CREDIT.” The customers laughed.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Akram (speaker)
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
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Akram Character Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the character Akram appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Akram
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Serious-looking but jovial Palestinian American Akram is 21. He goes to college full time but also works 65 hours a week—90... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Bayoumi knows Akram from Mike’s Food Store, his family’s grocery store in East Flatbush, which is a largely... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
In 1982, Akram’s father, Abdel Salam, bought Mike’s Food Center, more than a decade after leaving Israeli-occupied Palestine... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Bayoumi meets Akram at an Egyptian-run Dunkin’ Donuts in Sunset Park, a neighborhood of southwest Brooklyn near Bay... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Akram is in his senior year of high school during 9/11, which he initially thinks must... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Akram’s next period is a community service class. Before the teacher arrives, another student loudly announces... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Akram’s family is safe, but others are not: numerous Arabs, and many people mistaken for Arabs,... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
The week after September 11, when school resumes at Edward R. Murrow, one of Akram’s teachers confronts him: “where are your scarves now?” The next day, he brings five hattas... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
In 2003, Akram is in college and goes to spend the summer taking care of his grandparents in... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
One day, Akram goes searching for a well he remembers from his childhood, which his family has told... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Akram is deeply affected by the sufferings of Palestinians: his grandfather is constantly afraid of being... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
He returns to Brooklyn, college, and the store, which closes two hours earlier on Sundays—Akram jokes that, if it also opened two hours later, he would only have “eight hours... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Akram sometimes hangs out with his friends at unassuming shisha cafés in Bay Ridge, although he... (full context)