Rasha vs. Yasmin

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
a compare and contrast essay between two characters of Bayoumi's book How Does it Feels to Be a Problem

Submitted: October 05, 2010

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Submitted: October 05, 2010



Selena, an African American, was whistling the tune ‘Jailhouse Rock” when two teenage white boys spotted her.“Hey there, beautiful. Where you headin’?” they hollered. She ignored them and continued walking; however, as she turned the corner she heard a splat. She calmly placed a hand to her back and felt the smear of broken egg. That was followed by jeers and laughter. Selena felt her face turn red, and she narrowed her eyes as she walked on. Soon, there were more eggs and more eggs. She wanted to stop and give these hooligans a piece of her mind. But, she bit her tongue, turned another corner and ran into the distance. Selena stopped to catch her breath. “I think I’m safe”, she thought, but she was wrong. Selena suddenly heard the sound of footsteps running at her direction. Selena felt her nervousness pick up, and she began to feel jitters running down her spine. She began to run and run. Not sure exactly where she was going. Whatever it was, she didn’t get too far. Then she felt a hit the back of her head. She became dizzy and disoriented; and Selena fell to the ground. The last thing she remembered seeing was a red puddle by her head and a boy, no older than 17, lying on top of her.
Selena is now in her early thirties and not a day goes by that she forgets what happened to her but unlike some rape victims, she didn’t let the past events define who she was. She wasn’t going to just stop living her life. Selena took charge. In her twenties, she became a police officer and joined the drug and gang investigation unit. With her on the force, she will see it that no girl will experience the same thing she did.
In How Does it Feel to Be a Problem, Moustafa Bayoumi describes Arab and Muslim Americans as the new ‘problem’. He states “Arab is everywhere and nowhere at once”. They are viewed as the villains, but at the same time, they are invisible and misunderstood. In both Yasmin’s and Rasha’s story, Bayoumi uses the themes of freedom, invisibility and pro-activeness to show that tough situations only make a person stronger. As Rasha mentions: “It is crucial not to obsess about the past but to look constructively to the future.” (Bayoumi, 43)
 Experiencing freedom can be a satisfying and exhilarating moment. At times, people feel burdened by their past actions, or lack thereof. They feel imprisoned and tied up, wishing they could have done things a bit differently. Unlike Yasmin and Rasha, some people don’t have that second chance. After the bus incident, Yasmin became annoyed with herself. She was frustrated that she didn’t do anything about it; didn’t say what she was truly feeling. When she was force to resign because of her religious belief, she took that opportunity to do what she wasn’t brave enough to do before. Yasmin was going to stand up for herself. She fought against the injustice of a system that determined to keep her out, no matter the resistance she faced. Rasha had a similar experience with the MDC correctional counselor. After much yelling, the counselor gave in and let her mother make the call. Even so, Rasha could feel “the acid bubbling inside of her” for the man who had no right to make her mother cry for no reason (Bayoumi, 31). A few months after her release from prison, she bumps into the same counselor who talked down to her and her sister and treated them like criminals. This time she was able to gather up the courage to “confront her jailer”. This time she could tell him what she and her family had to suffer through. Both Yasmin and Rasha were able to release all their pent up anger and frustration, finally set themselves free, and actually continue to live their lives. However, sometimes it’s not always easy to find the courage and motivation to free oneself especially when that someone is ‘unseen’ and stepped on.
 Yasmin and Rasha were both mistreated and misunderstood. At times, they felt discouraged- that they were treated unfairly - but these experiences just made them grow and explore their true destinies. They both were persistent and came out as true victors. While in prison, Rasha felt invisible. Everyone dressed the same, ate the same meal, and had the same cells. She felt “like a lab rat”. (Bayoumi, 26) The correctional officers “spoke to the inmates as if they were gods and the inmates a subhuman species.” (27) They didn’t care. They ignored the inmates and didn’t offer any assistance even when Rasha’s sister suffered from a rash. Even before prison, Rasha and her family were ‘not seen’. The FBI wasn’t willing to hear them out even after all the pleading and begging. Rasha herself “felt powerless to change her situation and utterly unable to challenge her accuser.” (43) Yasmin also felt invisible. She fought for equal treatment and against double standards. She was told that everyone was required to attend all of the events. The school doesn’t make any exceptions. “Meanwhile the Leadership class had to rearrange the dance schedule twice, once when the dance landed on the night of a Jewish holiday…and again on the same night as the sweet sixteen parties of the girls in Leadership.”( 97) She felt like she was alone and wasn’t being heard. No one was considering her situation. When Yasmin realized that she wasn’t getting any help from others, she began to fight by herself. During their times of difficulty, Yasmin and Rasha learned that the world is not always a helpful place. Sometimes you need to fight your own battles; you can’t rely on others to always bail you out.
Yasmin and Rasha were able to use their anger against the system to good use. They were inspired from what had happened to them and decided to help others in the future. Yasmin challenged her father’s wishes and decided to attend law school. “Most racism in society happens to the most vulnerable members in our public schools.” (Bayoumi, 109) This is one reason why Yasmin decided to become a lawyer. She hopes that one day she will be able to help young Arab and Muslim Americans claim their rights through the system. Rasha is doing her part for the world as well. She is now doing graduate work in international relations with a program affiliated with the United Nations. Rasha decided to dedicate her life to human rights advocacy. In her eyes, some people are being stripped from their rights and everyone deserves to be heard. Both Yasmin and Rasha took the bus incident and the events at MDC and decided to give back and better others like them.
“People connect to each other on the basis of equality and through the universal values of a shared humanity” (Bayoumi, 270). Both Yasmin’s and Rasha’s stories illustrate that the fight to retain standards of fairness is an act of resistance, an act of rebellion against the age of terror. In a time where Arab and Muslim Americans are viewed as the villains, people still try to make things right. Hundreds of people signed a petition for the release of Rasha and her family from detention. Yasmin reached out to Advocates for Children and found someone who would fight for her based on principle. These actions show what the ideal America is suppose to be; “a party of everyone for everyone and by everyone.” (270)

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