Opting Out of Whiteness
For decades, immigrants fought to be considered white. Now that trend is reversing.
Writes The Russia-Iran File
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I had always objected to race-based affirmative action on the principle that it was illiberal and anti-meritocratic. Job hunting during the pandemic changed my objection. Suddenly, despite my principled opposition, a practical part of me wished that there was affirmative action for Middle Easterners. I did the least I could do, returning to my full name, “Khashayar,” instead of Shay, in job applications as a signal to recruiters or hiring managers that I’m not that white.
My experience is an illustration of centuries of migration and assimilation in America. Immigrants who came to America always wanted to be counted as white to receive the benefits of whiteness. Now that the tides are turning, immigrants—and their descendants—want a divorce from whiteness.
Benjamin Franklin infamously wrote that America should prioritize white immigrants. On this principle, he favored restricting the immigration of “swarthy” Germans. But Germans came here, nevertheless, and they eventually became white. The same is true of the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, and the Greeks. Just like my Middle Eastern forefathers, each of these groups tried to “become” white, and they eventually did.
That racial categories are so pliable shows how inane the entire concept of race is. My great aunt, with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion, was born in northern Iran, but my “white” friend from Indiana with his olive skin would pass as white before her. The racial categories that we have become so attached to break down with even the slightest rational pushback, and yet we refuse to let them go.
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Again again, “race” becomes such a obviously flawed perception and paradigm.
I just don’t know how to get the human “race” to move on to a better understanding of what makes humans different and what doesn’t.