America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority

256 pages

April, 2010

ISBN: 9780814782736



Also available in



Part of the Critical America series


John Tehranian is currently Professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange County, California.

All books 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.


  • “This book is a compelling study of one of the critical issues of our time: the debate regarding issues of assimilation, immigration, and national identity. . .a well-written and extremely readable book suited to general readers as well as faculty and researchers.”


  • “Tehranian has written a compelling account of discrimination against those of Middle Eastern descent. His book is an important addition to the literature on race in America and could not be more timely.”

    —Erwin Chemerinsky, Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine, School of Law

  • “A refreshing analysis and accessible account of the contradictory classification of Middle Eastern Americans as whites in the early 1900s and as non-whites a century later.”

    —Mehdi Bozorgmehr, co-author of Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond

  • “A learned, witty, and analytically biting analysis of race politics and race jurisprudence. A brilliant case that race is understood through performance and is hostage to the politics of fear. Tehranian’s legal and intellectual thriller is hard to put down.”

    —James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University

  • “Tehranian chronicles how American law constructed Whiteness, how Middle Eastern immigrants struggled to assimilate, and documents how this officially White population does not share in the bounty of White privilege.”

  • “He provides an important contribution to the dynamic study of the legal and political status of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.”

    The Law and Politics Book Review

  • “Tehranian’s book covers fresh legal and social territory . . . consistently informative and casts off the cloak of invisibility.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • "Whitewashed is an indispensible contribution to the effort to make visible the struggles of Middle Eastern community in the U.S. Activists and educators alike will benefit enormously from Tehranian's thorough research and highly accessible, often entertaining prose."

    —Loren D. Lybarger, Journal of American Ethnic History