Selective Racialization: Middle-Eastern American Identity and the Faustian Pact with Whiteness

36 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2008 Last revised: 5 May 2015


Drawing on Charles Lawrence's insights on the power of unconscious racism, this Article examines the social mechanisms that have fueled discrimination against Middle-Eastern Americans and exacerbated their relative invisibility in the body politic and the civil rights movement. The Article begins by examining the continued societal relevance of the concept of whiteness, analyzing the construction of a distinct Middle-Eastern taxonomy, and charting the transformation of Middle-Eastern Americans in the public imagination from friendly foreigners to a veritable enemy race.

Dissecting the negotiation of Middle-Eastern racial identity, the Article argues that Middle-Eastern Americans are subject to a two-fold, and frequently unconscious, process that has fostered their relative invisibility and absence from the civil rights dialogue. On one hand, society has selectively racialized individuals of Middle-Eastern descent, thereby unleashing a pernicious stereotyping feedback loop that ossifies negative connotations associated with the group and accentuates the sense of their Otherness. On the other hand, many Middle-Eastern Americans have adopted assimilatory covering measures to downplay their Otherness in the eyes of society. In the process, they have made a Faustian pact with whiteness - both as an unconscious response to and strategic tactic against the forces of racism. Taken as a whole, these forces have simultaneously enabled Middle Easterners to avoid discrimination at an individual level but lessened the ability of the community, as a whole, to systematically fight invidious discrimination and stereotyping in the long term.

Keywords: race, discrimination, whiteness, civil rights, Middle-Eastern Americans, unconscious racism, assimilation, covering, identity

Suggested Citation

Tehranian, John, Selective Racialization: Middle-Eastern American Identity and the Faustian Pact with Whiteness. Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, 2008; Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2008-9. Available at SSRN:

John Tehranian (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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