How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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Omar Character Analysis

A young Palestinian Chilean American college graduate who cannot find a job, which frightens him because, without one, he will not be able to marry Nadine, the Palestinian girl on whom he has set his sights. Passionate about improving American media and interested in becoming a war correspondent, he interns at a community television station and then the United Nations office of Qatari media giant Al Jazeera. Although his boss loves him and the internship goes marvelously, he realizes that he has a scarce chance of finding another media job as an Arab with the name of an Arab media organization on his résumé. After applying for almost 1,000 jobs, including (reluctantly) for translator positions at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, he still has no prospects at the end of Bayoumi’s portrait and does not know whether he will be able to marry Nadine. His sense of hopelessness, uncertainty, and powerless shows the insidious and cyclical nature of contemporary discrimination against Arabs and Muslims—Omar’s prospective employers, it seems, never take him seriously because they cannot get past the identity his résumé signals, just as so many Americans cannot push back the veil of stereotype to see the humanity and complex experiences of Arabs and Muslims in the United States.

Omar 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 Omar or refer to Omar. 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.
Omar Quotes

“But look, Omar,” she said. “I'm a friend of your family. And just for the future, I'd like to warn you.” She paused. “This,” she said, pointing to the line on his résumé that Omar was most proud of, his work at Al Jazeera, “this could work against you in the future. Especially if you want to get work with people who feel threatened by the whole Arab thing.”

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Omar
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

“Look. It's like this,” Eyad, a portly young Egyptian, explained to me. He leaned in to the table and put his weight behind his words. “Before, they went after the Jews, the Italians, the Irish. And now it's our turn. Everybody gets their turn. Now it's just the Muslims.” He leaned back. To my ears these young men were living uneasily in an unresolved contradiction.

They acknowledged that the rights of Muslims were being unfairly trampled on, but they were seduced by the lure of owning a marketable skill (the Arabic language) that was currently in high demand. What they didn't voice was the idea that the culture of the FBI would be changed by their contributions to the Bureau or that civic participation was calling them to serve. They saw an open avenue, wide and empty of traffic, to a job, a profession, a career. It was as if the grinding pressure on their generation to succeed at any cost was taking precedence over everything else.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Omar
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? PDF

Omar Character Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the character Omar appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Omar
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
In 2006, 22-year-old Omar is stuck in his job search. Despite his experience, industry connections, and nearly a thousand... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
At a Bay Ridge shisha café, Omar tells Bayoumi how the engagement would go: his grandfather would call Nadine’s father to propose... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Omar could not have predicted his difficulty on the job market nine months before, when he... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Omar’s anxiety about hiring discrimination is common among Arab Americans of his age. Sade, the young... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Bayoumi meets Omar at the Arab Club at Hunter college. Omar is dressed in a suit after a... (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
Omar gets into media in 2003, after a friend brings him to anti-Iraq War protests and... (full context)
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Omar recounts his family’s tradition of political resistance: after fighting the Israeli occupation and “frequently landing... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Then, at the age of fourteen, Omar’s parents send him to Palestine, where “everything [is] alien to him.” When he returns to... (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
In early 2005, Omar interviews for a job with Al Jazeera’s office in the UN. He is immediately impressed... (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
For the next few months, Omar focuses on school and helps a New York Times reporter navigate the Arab American community... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
At the shisha café Meena House, Omar and a number of his friends talk with Bayoumi about work and the FBI. One... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
In fact, Omar has even applied for a job at the FBI—he is that desperate—and at the DEA,... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Omar tells Bayoumi about meeting Nadine at the Arab Club; although they seldom spend time together,... (full context)