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Professional Group

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Arab Amp; White High Quality

Early Arab immigrants desperately pursued whiteness and performed it in immigration proceedings. The law officially mandated whiteness as a prerequisite for US citizenship until 1952. Key judicial decisions in 1915 and later 1944, solidified the legal designation that Arabs were white by law.

arab amp; white

Together, popular and governmental demonisation of Arabs has positioned the population as political pariahs and national security threats; consequently, stripping Arabs of the privileges and power associated with their (legal) whiteness.

Federal government standards require the U.S. census to count people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa as white. But a new study finds many people of MENA descent do not see themselves as white, and neither do many white people. OsakaWayne Studios/Getty Images hide caption

But a newly released study co-authored by Maghbouleh offers suggestive evidence that a majority of people with MENA origins do not see themselves as white. Meanwhile, a substantial percentage of white people who do not identify as MENA or Latino do not perceive MENA people as white either, the study also suggests.

They included one group of people who identified as white and not MENA or Latino, as well as two cohorts who either identified as Middle Eastern or reported having at least one grandparent born in the Middle East or North Africa.

Characteristics related to the Middle East or North Africa, the findings suggest, would not be categorized as white by many people of MENA descent or by white people who do not identify as MENA or Latino.

"I think that's a very powerful finding, which I think anecdotally has been felt by most Arab Americans in their daily lives," says Kristine Ajrouch, a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University whose research on white identity and Arab Americans is cited in the paper.

Researchers are hamstrung by the federal standards that require the Census Bureau to include people with MENA roots in data about white people. With no separate "Middle Eastern or North African" checkbox on the U.S. census forms, there is no direct way of producing a national count of people of MENA descent in the United States.

"It makes it very difficult to identify Middle Eastern and North African individuals or those of Arab ancestry when there's been decades of conditioning and socializing to say, 'When you fill out the form, you're supposed to check white,' " says Ajrouch, who is currently trying to study how prevalent Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are among older Arab Americans.

The complicated relationship many people with MENA origins have with whiteness is entangled with a naturalization system in the U.S. that, until 1952, imposed racial restrictions on which immigrants could become citizens.

First arriving in large numbers in the late 1800s, the earliest generations of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa saw whiteness as the path towards claiming full rights in their new country.

There were several court cases where Syrian immigrants emphasized their Christianity because it was considered a European religion and, therefore, a marker of whiteness, says Sahar Aziz, a law professor at Rutgers University Law School and author of The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom.

Anti-Black racism in the media and other parts of U.S. society, Aziz adds, has helped drive many immigrants from around the world to try to "disassociate themselves from Blackness and try to associate as close to whiteness as possible."

The Times determined that more than 80% of people in this group have called themselves white by conducting an analysis of census microdata published by the Minnesota Population Center. The Times compiled how people in each ancestral group answered the census' race question. Where available, SWANA countries were combined to create a nationwide total.

There's no shortage of other examples of people who have misrepresented their race or ethnicity: Hilaria Baldwin, Alec Baldwin's wife, attracted controversy over allegations that she misled people into believing she was Spanish in 2020. That same year, actress and filmmaker Michelle Latimer was found to have falsely claimed Indigenous ancestry. And, in 2021, British influencer Oli London claimed they had "transitioned" races from white to Korean.

In a Medium post published under her name, Krug was revealed to be white, and had been living "under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim," at times having claimed to be of North African or Caribbean descent, and from the Bronx.

People of color have historically had to pass as white in order to survive or get ahead. Famed actress Merle Oberon hid her South Asian and Maori heritage to avoid prejudice, while sex symbol Raquel Welch grew up with a father who tried to assimilate at all costs, even banning Spanish at home.

For people of color, passing was about survival, affording them privileges, resources, and opportunities that are typically available only to those who were white, according to Whitney Pirtle, associate professor of sociology at University of California Merced.

There are potential reasons why someone who is white would want to pose as a person of color, from family trauma to a desire to evade "responsibility for white oppression of other racial groups," according to Maryann Erigha, associate professor of sociology at the University of Georgia.

"Costuming" also facilitates a misunderstanding of the concept of race as a social construct, which denotes how racial categories have shifted depending on the historical, political, social, and economic contexts of a particular time. Pretending to be a person of color wholly ignores the historical trauma and discrimination that marginalized communities have experienced in what Pirtle called an "amplification of white privilege."

Clayton County Police Department officers arrested Foxworth shortly after the second attack. After his arrest, Foxworth told officers that he had targeted the stores because he wanted to kill Arab and Black people, and he believed that there were people inside the stores who belonged to those groups. Foxworth expressed hope that he had killed his targets, and professed belief in white supremacist ideology.

Perhaps this classification may have benefited earlier generations of Arab immigrants, who desperately sought whiteness yearning to belong to the dominant culture in order to fit in, and avoid discrimination.

However, our lived experience as immigrants -- as well as second or third generation Arab Americans -- is quite distinct from that of the white American experience. Especially when you take in the past two decades.

White Americans have generally not faced government programs that targeted them for who they are, or hate incidents simply because they share an ethnic background or religious beliefs, even when white terrorists have been guilty of mass shootings around the country.

Not only did Trump ban Arabs like myself from entering the country, he turned communities against each other, and empowered white supremacists -- who we share a census category with -- to become openly racist.

"Go back to Mexico," shouted a young white guy passing by me on Brookhurst Street in Anaheim's Little Arabia. It took me a moment to realize that in a Trump era, many closet racists felt empowered enough to shout racist comments towards Brown folks, even though it was the wrong ethnicity.

A few weeks later, as I was registering voters in front of Altayebat Market, an Arab grocery store in Anaheim, a shopper who looked white but had a European accent yelled "Is this a terrorist organization?" and kept walking to his car.

Besides encouraging census participation, we launched a campaign to urge Arab Americans to check the "other" box instead of "white," and write in "Arab" when filling out the form. The slogan, "Check It Right, You Ain't White," brought a lot of national media attention to the campaign and created more awareness within the community about the importance of identifying oneself correctly on the census form.

But when we started to hear those same conspiracy theories coming from state-sponsored media in the Middle East, we were admittedly surprised. Why would leaders of majority-Muslim countries attack Muslim-American candidates in the United States? Instead of being proud of our strides forward, they echoed the bigotry of white supremacists to demonize us. 041b061a72


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