How does a group become defined as white? And does that group define themselves that way as well? Neda Maghbouleh
's new book, The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race
(Stanford University Press
, 2017), uses interview and ethnographic data to better understand how Iranian Americans perceive themselves and are perceived. "Caught in the chasm between formal ethno-racial invisibility and informal hypervisibility," Iranian Americans often straddle a space in which they are sometimes defined as white but other times not. Through the voices and experiences of 80 young people, Maghbouleh exposes the reader to the inner workings of their lives at school, at home, and abroad. By comparing and contrasting experiences in different social systems and situations, the reader becomes immersed in the lives of these youth and is connected to their racialized experiences. At home, these youth are often told that they are white and that they should be proud of their heritage; however, the youth know these stories would not be understood or accepted by peers. At school, the youth are quite often "browned" and bullied by peers and others outside their homes. Maghbouleh also examines the interesting scenario of the "flip side" when the youth travel to Iran, elaborating on their experiences there where they sometimes feel too "American."
This book does a stellar job of grounding findings within the stories of those interviewed. Additionally, it builds up the historical background for the reader, using important legal cases, in which the whiteness of Iranians and other groups are tried, to set the stage for present day experiences of Iranian Americans. Overall, this book presents a solid overview and understanding of the ways in which Iranian American youth experience race in America. This book is rich with information and stories, but completely accessible to the lay reader or even scholars who do not study race. This book would be good for upper level undergraduate Sociology classes and the perfect addition to a graduate level Sociology of Race class.
Sarah E. Patterson is a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario. You can tweet her at @spattersearch.