Compulsory Whiteness: Towards a Middle-Eastern Legal Scholarship

74 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2006 Last revised: 5 May 2015

See all articles by John Tehranian

John Tehranian

Southwestern Law School; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


This Article examines the antinomy of middle-eastern legal and racial classification. Individuals of middle-eastern descent are caught in a catch-22. Through a bizarre fiction, the state has adopted the uniform classification of all individuals of middle-eastern descent as white. On paper, therefore, they appear no different than the blue-eyed, blonde-haired individual of Scandinavian descent. Yet reality does not mesh with this bureaucratic position. On the street, individuals of middle-eastern descent suffer from the types of discrimination and racial animus endured by recognized minority groups. The dualistic and contested ontology of the middle-eastern racial condition therefore creates an unusual paradox. Reified as the other, individuals of middle-eastern descent do not enjoy the benefits of white privilege. Yet, as white under the law, they are denied the fruits of remedial action.

Moreover, the state's racial fiction fosters an invisibility that perniciously enables the perpetuation and even expansion of discriminatory conduct, both privately and by the state, against individuals of middle-eastern descent. Indeed, unlike virtually every other racial minority in our country, middle easterners have faced rising, rather than diminishing, degrees of discrimination over time - a trend epitomized 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. By tracing the chilling reproblematization of the middle easterner from friendly foreigner to enemy alien, enemy alien to enemy race, this Article argues that the modern civil rights movement has not done enough to advance the freedoms of those of middle-eastern descent.

Finally, the Article critiques the extant literature in critical race theory for ignoring issues of concern to individuals of middle-eastern descent. Specifically, the legal academy must launch a dialogue, in both its law review literature and the classroom, on the particular problems facing the middle-eastern population, especially in the post-9/11 environment. A central tenet of this plea is a re-examination in what we - as a society and as scholars - count as diversity. The Article therefore takes a simple, though radical, step: calling for the development of a middle-eastern critical legal scholarship.

Keywords: middle east, middle eastern, civil rights, race, critical race theory, whiteness, immigration, equal protection, terrorism, diversity

Suggested Citation

Tehranian, John, Compulsory Whiteness: Towards a Middle-Eastern Legal Scholarship. Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 82, 2007, U of Utah Legal Studies Paper No. 06-03, Available at SSRN:

John Tehranian (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

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University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
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