Performative Aspects of Race: 'South Asian, Arab, and Muslim' Racial Formation after September 11

10 UCLA Asian Pacific American Law Journal 61 (Nov. 2005).

27 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2016

Date Written: November 2005


This paper identifies and explores mechanisms that individuals use to create and interpret, re-create and re-interpret, "Arab, Muslim, and South Asian" as a racial identity through performance. This concept is important to understanding the law's interpretation and analysis of race. Considering race as performance is important for Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT's mantra has been that race is a social construct, meaning that race has been constructed from social, cultural, historical, and political contexts within systems and institutions. Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati point to a deficiency in the concept of race as a social construct at the macro level. They note that CRT often ignores the "racial productivity of the 'choices' people of color make about how they present themselves as racialized persons," and in general the race producing practices of people are often ignored. This paper attempts to examine the "choices" Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians make that purposefully or mistakenly produce race. Such a discussion is important for two reasons. First, it provides a lens to develop new legal strategies that take into account the nuances of identity and provides a springboard to build intra- and inter-community coalitions with other communities of color. Additionally, an understanding of racial performance moves us toward an analysis of how individual Arabs, Muslims and South Asians choose to present themselves. With this inquiry into the process of racial formation, we can understand the role of the individual in creating racial identity. Part I of this paper presents the theoretical framework. Section B explains "performance theory" and my framework of race as performance. Section C then introduces the three categories of racial performance used in this paper: strategic passing, covering, and using stereotypes. Section D presents the theory of performance "teams." Part II explores the relationship between race as performance in both formal and informal performance situations, and analyzes the above narrative in the context of the performance theory to provide an example of the relationship between the three categories of racial performance and performance teams. Part III presents strategic resistance efforts and everyday survival/self-preservation tactics.

Keywords: Critical Race Theory, racial performance, September 11

Suggested Citation

Patel, Sunita, Performative Aspects of Race: 'South Asian, Arab, and Muslim' Racial Formation after September 11 (November 2005). 10 UCLA Asian Pacific American Law Journal 61 (Nov. 2005)., Available at SSRN:

Sunita Patel (Contact Author)

UCLA School of Law ( email )

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