The Limits of Whiteness: A Selected Bibliography

January 30th, 2018

When Roya, an Iranian American high school student, is asked to identify her race, she feels anxiety and doubt. According to the federal government, she and others from the Middle East are white. Indeed, a historical myth circulates even in immigrant families like Roya's, proclaiming Iranians to be the "original" white race. But based on the treatment Roya and her family receive in American schools, airports, workplaces, and neighborhoods—interactions characterized by intolerance or hate—Roya is increasingly certain that she is not white. In The Limits of Whiteness, Neda Maghbouleh offers a groundbreaking, timely look at how Iranians and other Middle Eastern Americans move across the color line. By shadowing Roya and more than 80 other young people, Maghbouleh documents Iranian Americans' shifting racial status. Drawing on never-before-analyzed historical and legal evidence, she captures the unique experience of an immigrant group trapped between legal racial invisibility and everyday racial hyper-visibility. Her findings are essential for understanding the unprecedented challenge Middle Easterners now face under "extreme vetting" and potential reclassification out of the "white" box. Maghbouleh tells for the first time the compelling, often heartbreaking story of how a white American immigrant group can become brown and what such a transformation says about race in America. Neda Maghbouleh will discuss The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans & the Everyday Politics of Race on Tuesday 2/6, 6pm at the Co-op.

Sons and Other Flammable Objects, by Porochista Khakpour - Her first novel and, to my mind, the ur-text for any American refugee/immigrant kid coming of age in a post-September 11 world. She's my writerly gold standard.
The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, by George Lipsitz - The career-award winning American Studies scholar lays out the stakes for challenging white supremacy. While I was writing my dissertation in Germany (my husband was there on a visiting fellowship and neither of us spoke German or knew anyone) George let me "read along" with a PhD seminar he was teaching at UC Santa Barbara, emailing with me every week about my ideas. His generosity was a lifeline.
Between Arab and White, by Sarah Gualtieri - A path-breaking history of Syrian America that finally placed Arab Americans into a racial formation analysis. When I read her book, it was like my brain clicked and I knew the way forward.
LOOK, by Solmaz Sharif - Her poems are a direct, unflinching indictment of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Devastating. When I forget my purpose, I remember her writing.
Arab-America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism, by Nadine Naber - A political anthropology of the community that boldly and definitively breaks from previous immigrant-incorporation modes of analysis. Inspiring to a new generation of scholars.
Homeland Insecurity, by Louise Cainkar - She leverages rich insights from her research with Chicago-area Arab and Muslim American communities to understand the domestic effects of the "foreign" War on Terror. Another foundational text for a new generation.
A Map of Home, by Randa Jarrar - I think of Nidali, the novel's Arab-heritaged teenage protagonist, as a friend I know in real life. Jarrar's writing is that present and animated. Within the parameters of my own work as a sociologist, I try to bring that sense of voice and presence to my writing.
Let Me Tell You Where I've Been, edited by Persis Karim - A feminist anthology of poetry, fiction and non-fiction masterfully curated by a founding scholar of Iranian Diaspora Studies. Her passion is life-giving.
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? by Moustafa Bayoumi - WEB Du Bois' heartbreaking question as told through the richly detailed narratives of Arab and Muslim American youth. My favorite book to read with undergraduate students.
Calling a Wolf a Wolf, by Kaveh Akbar - The Iranian American poet's first book ricochets from blood and bone to ecstasy and delirium. Reading it at the end of my own book-writing process was cathartic.

About Neda Maghbouleh: Neda Maghbouleh is an Iranian American sociologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada. She is a frequent commentator and writer for venues like CBC Radio, NPR Code Switch,, Vice, and Vox. 
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