The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race

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By Neda Maghbouleh

When Roya, an Iranian American high school student, is asked to identify her race, she feels anxiety and doubt. According to the federal government, she and others from the Middle East are white. Indeed, a historical myth circulates even in immigrant families like Roya's, proclaiming Iranians to be the "original" white race. But based on the treatment Roya and her family receive in American schools, airports, workplaces, and neighborhoods―interactions characterized by intolerance or hate―Roya is increasingly certain that she is not white. In The Limits of Whiteness, Neda Maghbouleh offers a groundbreaking, timely look at how Iranians and other Middle Eastern Americans move across the color line.

By shadowing Roya and more than 80 other young people, Maghbouleh documents Iranian Americans' shifting racial status. Drawing on never-before-analyzed historical and legal evidence, she captures the unique experience of an immigrant group trapped between legal racial invisibility and everyday racial hyper-visibility. Her findings are essential for understanding the unprecedented challenge Middle Easterners now face under "extreme vetting" and potential reclassification out of the "white" box. Maghbouleh tells for the first time the compelling, often heartbreaking story of how a white American immigrant group can become brown and what such a transformation says about race in America.

"Tremendously important for historians, sociologists, legal scholars and anthropologists, The Limits of Whiteness is required reading for those with interests in race, immigration, processes of othering, and diasporas." - Canadian Journal of Sociology

"In this brilliantly designed, beautifully written, and persuasively argued book, Neda Maghbouleh demonstrates that Iranian-Americans inhabit a complex and contradictory relationship to race. Her evidence, ideas, and arguments make significant and lasting contributions to our understanding of whiteness as a social construction. The vivid and poignant portraits of the lives of second-generation Iranian Americans that form the evidentiary base of this brilliant book reveal whiteness to be a fickle and volatile category, an ever shifting entity shaped by political, cultural, linguistic, and religious practices that initially might seem to have little to do with race." - George Lipsitz, author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

"I've been writing personal essays about Iranians and race for years, but Neda Maghbouleh's The Limits of Whiteness provides a much-needed sociologist's examination. Maghbouleh seamlessly navigates the historical, anthropological, and political, in a work as engaging as it is informative. This trailblazing book should be required reading for anyone interested in race in America, period." - Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons & Other Flammable Objects and The Last Illusion

"The Limits of Whiteness is cutting-edge scholarship at its best. Beautifully written and insightfully researched, it is essential reading for those interested in the fraught and capacious legacies, and afterlives, of Middle Eastern and American racial projects." - Sarah Gualtieri, author of Between Arab and White

"Maghbouleh's book illustrates the inadequacy of existing studies of American whiteness." - Literary Review of Canada