Locating the Self through Representing the Other: Occidentalism as a Strategy for Self-exclusion and Recognition in Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Ishak Berrebbah, Coventry University, UK


    Arab American women’s literature has emerged noticeably in the early years of the 21st century. The social and political atmosphere of post 9/11 America encouraged the growth of such literature and brought it to international attention. This diasporic literature functions as a resistance to prevailing Orientalist stereotypes and the misconception of Arabs and Arab Americans and also as a tool to write back to the superior other – in this case, white Americans. As such, the process of writing back is imbued with the discourse of Occidentalism; this not only creates a set of counter-stereotypes and representations but it also works as a strategy for self-exclusion—in which Arab Americans exclude themselves from wider US society—and paves the way for self-realization. In other words, it is a dialogue based on the dichotomy of us (Arab Americans) versus them (White Americans). Taking Mohja Kahf’s novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006) as a sample of Arab American literature, this paper tends to both examine and discuss the extent to which Arab American characters including Téta, Wajdy, and Khadra represent and identify white Americans from an Occidentalist point of view to exclude themselves from wider American society, and sustain their self-realization and recognition. The arguments and analysis in this paper are outlined within social identity theoretical framework based on Henry Tajfel and Homi Bhabha’s perspectives and Gayatri Spivaks’ postcolonial concept of the subaltern. While social identity theory focuses on a stereotypes-based dichotomy between in-group and out-group strategies that leads to social exclusion, the concept of the subaltern comes to interpret this dichotomy as a complex relationship between the inferior (Arab Americans) and the superior (White Americans).