So, are you white?


So, are you white?
by Nazy Kaviani

Photo shows Rudi Bakhtiar of PAAIA at the IAAB Conference, Berkeley, April 4, 2009 

I have been attending the Fourth International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora, organized by Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) in Berkeley this weekend.  A ballroom full of beautiful, intelligent, educated, and accomplished Iranians has been keeping me engaged.  Scholars, artists, writers, researchers, politicians, and celebrities have come together to help address Iranian diaspora issues.  From issues of identity and discrimination, to political activism, civil society, human rights, arts and music, the Conference panels are leading the audience through discussions which will hopefully answer the growing Iranian community’s questions about how to find a unified voice and how to make that voice heard by politicians and other citizens of the world.

Everybody here is so young!  The youth and exuberance of the participants brings so much excitement and freshness to the analysis and suggested solutions.  It is really refreshing to see how the new diasporic Iranian identity is taking shape, finding its way to Capitol Hill, American media, and university research centers and projects, not to mention arts and music.

The panels today covered subjects of “Classifying a Community: Definitions of Race and Ethnic Identity,” “Negotiating Identity: Exploring Cultural Production,” and “Challenging Established Views: Fostering new Dialogues about Culture and Tradition.”

The distinguished panelists today were John Tehranian of Chapman University; Nina Farnia of UCLA; Babak Hoghooghi of Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA); Michelle Moghtader of National Iranian American Council (NIAC); Donya Alinejad of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Amy Malek of UCLA; Mazyar Lotfalian, independent scholar; Jasmin Darznik of The Association of Iranian American Writers (AIAW); Neda Maghbouleh of UC Santa Barbara; Ahmad Kiarostami, Videographer/Independent Researcher; Ross Mirkarimi, City of San Francisco Supervisor; Banafsheh Akhlaghi of Amnesty International USA; Hooman Khalili, radio host; Rudi Bakhtiar of PAAIA; Morad Ghorban of PAAIA; Azadeh Shahshahani of American Civil Liberties Union; Abdi Soltani of PARSA Community Foundation; Mina Trudeau of Al-Fatiha; Sanaz Raji and Shahrzad M. Davis of University of Leeds; Gelareh Bassiry of Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence Services; Marjan Moinzadeh and Mansour Taeed of Javaneh Theatre Group.

In the panel discussing “Definitions of race and ethnic identity” a very important and timely subject was discussed.  By legal definition, Iranians are considered White/Caucasian.  But are we Iranians really white in the eyes of US laws?  John Tehranian’s reponse to this question was:  “White?  Well, that’s not what they call me at the airport!”  In fact while being “white” means that Iranians practically receive no protection from discrimination, being Middle Easterners has been sure to increase the potential of discrimination and harassment for Iranians socially and in the work place over the past 30 years and most particularly since 9/11.  In his book Whitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority, he proposes that Middle Easterners should try harder to establish their own social identity and to become unified to combat the realities of being considered “perpetual foreigners” in the US.  I found this segment of the conference, which also contained a report on PAAIA’s survey results about Iranian Americans, and a report on NIAC’s efforts to battle the “Iran blockade resolution” last year most thought provoking.  Say, did you know that Senator Diane Feinstein represents the largest Iranian American community in the US?  Think about that and how each and every one of us should establish contact with her to ensure our voices are heard when she talks and votes in the Senate! 

I may write about this conference again.


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To the British Mazdak!!

by Ethnic observer (not verified) on

Sorry to have dented your middle eastern credentials by reminding you that calling Iran/Persia a Middle Eastern country is not an accurate description of the country and its people. Your Wikipedia quotations are noted but not highly valued. FYI it is not your Foreign Office who favors the term Near East when ot comes to Iran but some of the most American of institutions, and the topmost credible ones such as washington Institute of Near Eastern Studies in London, Universities of Princeton, Yale, Berkely, and many more have the Department of Near Eastern Studies and, you guessed it, they all inlcude Persia/Iran as one such teritory.

anonymous fish


by anonymous fish on

thanks for the clarification.  sometimes words just don't 'splain what you're trying to say.  :-)

absolutely right-on assessment of affirmative action.  i remember my dad saying something in the mid-to-late 70's, when i was... ahem... in my early 20's and looking for a job in my field (english major-math minor... GOOD LUCK).  if i was a black, single-parent female, i would have it made in the shade.  and so true.

it was a glorious concept and one that i support 100%.  but like anything else, it can and was abused.  again, human nature and over-kill by the government.  they just don't know when to back off!!!  :-))

i think there is a little... a small... distinction between historical prejudices and prejudice against iranians (or ME in general).  blacks were considered inferior.  women were considered inferior.  plus, they aren't foreigners.  it was a collective measure of time and effort which overcame those injustices.  iranians are not considered inferior (which brings to mind the "threat" factor).  ok... for the sake of convenience, let's use ME to be fair and include ALL middle easterners.  ME are not considered inferior or of less intellectural capacity.  this is more political.  9-11 stamped "beware of ME" on every american's forehead.  it surely can't be considered a surprise or even really really REALLY unfair... can it?

i don't think "special protection" is going to get you anywhere.  i think a more vocal approach... more participation... more public awareness... is going to be more effective. 

there is a saying... resentment breeds contempt.  and it applies both ways.  i'd much rather avoid both and breed understanding and unity.


Nicely explained Ali P.

by Monda on

Thank you both AnonFish and AP for your mind provoking exchange.

Ali P.

a. fish

by Ali P. on

    I agree with your points, and I think if you had understood mine- or  had I expressed it better- you would also agree with me.

    I was trying to say sometimes, because of the past discrimination, the American society, by the way of legislation, tries to change the status quo, correcting a wrong.

 The 'affirmative action' by the government, makes Blacks easier to get into medical schools, or women into traditionlly male dominated professions (such as military), but it also creates a resentment, in some Whites, or some men.

   It eventually dies out, but I have personally heard many Whites complain about how they couldn't get a post office job, or a fire fighter job, or didn't get into medical school, where a less qualified minority did. Or some men complain about how 'the equal opportunity laws are destroying the fabric of the military', by allowing women into combat.

   If Iranians are going to enjoy an extra protection, currently furnished to the racial minorities, or women, we should expect some backlash or resentment from the majority.

Is it right? Is it fair?

Probably not, but that's the pricetag; something to be considered.

Good questions you have posed. I hope readers would provide answers.



Ali P.

anonymous fish


by anonymous fish on

correctly you state that the US has not "historically" given equal opportunity to various minorities.  but what you leave out and this is the most important thing of all, is that we do NOW, albeit slowly and progressively.  this isn't an isolated "american" thing.  nor is it just a human trait.  animals are discriminatory.  it might not be right but it's a fact and it's natural.  i don't agree with the "resentful majority" comment either.  i think it's rather more a sense of fear of the unknown or again, different.  why would "they" resent "you".  this is assuming of course you're making a direct correlation to iranians.

i'm not sure exactly what the point of this is.  are you wanting a separate catagory for iranians, or not?  do you NOT want to be considered ME, or you do? 

the below link is very interesting as it relates to ethnicity.


read specifically Issue 6 as it relates to suggestions.


Near East?

by Mazdak (not verified) on

It's amusing how far some (American) Iranians go to try to re-package themselves (Maz’ Jobrani: we’re Persian like the cat, meow). The term Near East is more or less synonymous with middle-east, although more often than not, near east has referred to North Africa and Levant and parts of Anatolia. But it could include Iran too. Both terms are inaccurate, arbitrary terms (east of what?) used by Early European Orientalists and favoured by the British Foreign Office. The persistence of the term Middle East as opposed to the less frequently used Far East reveals the politics of Oil and Islam more than anything else. Iran is part of (West) Asia. Culturally and racially modern Iranians are a mixed bag, that's why it's hard to categorize them. They are fair skinned and dark skinned; brown-eyed and green-eyed; they have inherited the culture of Caucuses and central Asia and East Africa, and in return have spread their own influence (both Persian language and Iranian culture) all over Asia and North and East Africa. Iran was the site of many empires. So look in the mirror and have a side glance at your Iranian friend. What are you? And never mind the racist subcontext of the US questionnaires about race.

Ali P.

The downside

by Ali P. on

Nazi jaan:

 Dorood bar shomaa! 

 My 2 cents ( which, by the way, is a lot of money to me, these days!):

  In the U.S., the legislation usually steps in and extends extra protection, for groups that have historically been discriminated against, and somehow fell behind due to being treated unjustly.

  Historically America has not given equal opportunity to Blacks, to women, to the handicapps, and to religeous minorities (Did you know you could not testify in court if you were an atheist?).

  The members of these groups were, and are, underrepresented in the high positions of the society- partly or wholly- because of historical discrimination.

  I am not sure if we, Iranians, are underrepresented in high positions.

(Maash'shaal'laah hameh aadam-hesaabee an!) 

      *                             *                                *

  Every time they put a group of people togther in one cathegory, it brings those people closer together, and at the same time, a derogatory name is created by the resentful majority, to refer to that minority.

(By the way, I was just recently  told that the term 'oriental' is considered offensive. They are now 'South Asians'. When did this happen?)

The new racial cathegory created would probably put us and the Arabs-and who else, Pakistanis and Indians- in one basket.

  I don't know.

  I, for one, have just not been discriminated against enough times, to ask for extra protection from the law . Surely others may have different experience.

Kaveh Nouraee

How about we say

by Kaveh Nouraee on


anonymous fish

naive, maybe

by anonymous fish on

optimistic, definitely. 

the middle east is a large representation in america now.  i think there should be a separate designation by now.  unfortunately, 9-11 did cast a dark cloud over most people's eyes.  but... BUT... no time like the present to recognize the value of iranian immigrants contributions to the US and start getting past the stigmata.

however, i disagree with the statement "...proposes that Middle Easterners should try harder to establish their own social identity and to become unified to combat the realities of being considered “perpetual foreigners” in the US".  isn't that defeating the whole purpose?  don't you WANT to integrate with americans?  this is the surest way to continually keep yourselves apart.  virtually every ethnic group immigrating to the US went through the same thing.  certainly ME have had a harder time and with the current climate of terrorism increasing thanks to taliban and others, it's not easy but i'm not sure how to take that attitude.  i'd like to hear more!

ethnic.  i've never heard that.  can you explain a little more? 

Ari Siletz

Looking foward to more

by Ari Siletz on

Thanks Nazy.

Natalia Alvarado-Alvarez

Nazy, Sepaas!

by Natalia Alvarado-Alvarez on

Please do write more on it. I look forward to it




Dark outside and white inside

by Cocoanut (not verified) on

The sorry state of affairs is that, I look dark to the whities, but am brainwashed white inside.
That's why they call me a cocoanut.


This blog should be

by featurethisplease (not verified) on

This blog should be featured. Thank you Nazy jon.


Thanks Nazy

by Monda on

I am looking forward to reading more about this conference. I wish I could attend it.


I'll change my profile

by eharmony applicant (not verified) on

I didn't know by legal definition Iranians are considered White/Caucasian. In eHarmony, I'll change my race from "Other" to "White". No wonder no one was giving me the time of day.


Correction: Iranians are not Middle Easterners

by Ethnic observer (not verified) on

If you want to address ethnicity please start if off on the right premis. Iran is a Near-Eastern country and not Middle-Eastern as the popular press prefer to call it.