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America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority

John Tehranian

Publication Year: 2009

Middle Easterners: Sometimes White, Sometimes Not - an article by John Tehranian

The Middle Eastern question lies at the heart of the most pressing issues of our time: the war in Iraq and on terrorism, the growing tension between preservation of our national security and protection of our civil rights, and the debate over immigration, assimilation, and our national identity. Yet paradoxically, little attention is focused on our domestic Middle Eastern population and its place in American society. Unlike many other racial minorities in our country, Middle Eastern Americans have faced rising, rather than diminishing, degrees of discrimination over time; a fact highlighted by recent targeted immigration policies, racial profiling, a war on terrorism with a decided racialist bent, and growing rates of job discrimination and hate crime. Oddly enough, however, Middle Eastern Americans are not even considered a minority in official government data. Instead, they are deemed white by law.

In Whitewashed, John Tehranian combines his own personal experiences as an Iranian American with an expert's analysis of current events, legal trends, and critical theory to analyze this bizarre Catch-22 of Middle Eastern racial classification. He explains how American constructions of Middle Eastern racial identity have changed over the last two centuries, paying particular attention to the shift in perceptions of the Middle Easterner from friendly foreigner to enemy alien, a trend accelerated by the tragic events of 9/11. Focusing on the contemporary immigration debate, the war on terrorism, media portrayals of Middle Easterners, and the processes of creating racial stereotypes, Tehranian argues that, despite its many successes, the modern civil rights movement has not done enough to protect the liberties of Middle Eastern Americans.

By following how concepts of whiteness have transformed over time, Whitewashed forces readers to rethink and question some of their most deeply held assumptions about race in American society.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

friends, and family, especially Peter Afrasiabi, Tony Anghie, Chris Arledge, Mark Bartholomew, Ruba Batnaji, Steven Burt, Tim Canova, Zev Eigen, Martha Ertman, Leslie Francis, Tracey Harrach, Mat Higbee, Lauren Hood, Erika George, Daniel Greenwood, Jed Gushman, Ernesto Hernandez, Corey Johanningmeier, Laura Kessler, Brett Kia-Keating, Maryam Kia-Keating, Terry Kogan...

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Introduction: The Price of the Ticket

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pp. 1-12

While on the academic job market several years ago, I received an invitation to interview for a tenure-track law professorship. Having made the school’s short list, I visited the campus for a pleasant day of meetings with the faculty and received strong indications of support for my candidacy. I strove, however, to keep my expectations in check. As the son of two professors, I had been repeatedly regaled with horror stories about the whimsical and pernicious nature of department politics around...

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1. Constructing Caucasians: A Brief History of Whiteness

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pp. 13-34

Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal pre-eminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title “Lord of the White Elephant” above all their other magniloquent descriptions of dominion; and the modern kings...

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2. Performing Whiteness: Law, Dramaturgy, and the Paradox of Middle Eastern Racial Classification

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pp. 35-63

As a response to the country’s heterogeneous immigrant roots, the American nation-building project has historically organized itself around a conception of whiteness that has determined the metes and bounds of group and individual rights and rationalized the prevailing social hierarchy. In what is perhaps the quintessential American bildungsroman,..

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3. From Friendly Foreigner to Enemy Race: Selective Racialization, Covering, andthe Negotiation of Middle Eastern American Identity

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pp. 64-89

Eastern descent found themselves on the dividing line. Often, by the thinnest of margins, courts declared them white. Other times, however, courts held otherwise. In either instance, jurists eschewed ostensibly scientific criteria or even common knowledge in determining racial categories. Instead, they utilized a performative heuristic that betrayed the constructed nature of the entire race-making enterprise...

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4. The Last Minstrel Show?: Middle Easterners in Media

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pp. 90-113

Art is the means through which we order the universe. Images play an instrumental role in both reflecting and constructing our notions of reality. As a result, they inextricably affect racial perceptions. Bearing this in mind, we turn our attention to the depiction of Middle Easterners in popular culture and the mainstream media. In the past, Hollywood— the world’s most influential producer of images...

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5. Threat Level Orange: The War on Terrorism and the Assault on Middle Eastern Civil Rights

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pp. 114-174

De jure segregation ended several decades ago. Majority attitudes toward racial minorities have, by most measures, improved dramatically in the past generation. And rates of discrimination and hate crimes have declined precipitously in recent years. Though its work is not nearly complete, the civil rights movement has bettered the lives...

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6. Lifting the Veil: Thinking about Reform

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pp. 165-182

We now turn our attention to the issue of reform and how we might ensure better protection for the civil rights of Middle Eastern Americans. As we have seen, the antinomy of Middle Eastern racial classification has stifled the identification and resolution of issues facing the Middle Eastern American population...

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pp. 183-184

Our country possesses an unparalleled tradition of respect for civil rights and the rule of law. For generations, immigrant groups have sought, and received, a better life upon arrival on American shores. The Middle Eastern immigrant experience has generally been no different. Middle Eastern Americans enjoy economic, political, and legal rights and freedoms that almost uniformly surpass those that they received in their ancestral homelands...


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pp. 185-226


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pp. 227-245

About the Author

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pp. 246-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780814784235
E-ISBN-10: 0814784232
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814783061
Print-ISBN-10: 0814783066

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 495794668
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Whitewashed

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Arab Americans -- Social conditions.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Iranian Americans -- Social conditions.
  • Turkish Americans -- Social conditions.
  • Arab Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Iranian Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Turkish Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Whites -- Race identity -- United States.
  • Racism -- United States.
  • Race discrimination -- United States.
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