Cover of The Limits of Whiteness by Neda Maghbouleh
The Limits of Whiteness
Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race
Neda Maghbouleh


September 2017
224 pages.
from $24.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804792585
Paper ISBN: 9781503603370



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.

About the author

Neda Maghbouleh is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

"In this brilliantly designed, beautifully written, and persuasively argued book, Neda Maghbouleh demonstrates that Iranian-Americans inhabit a complex and contradictory relationship to race. They find themselves living at the limits of whiteness, considered to be not white enough for some purposes but too white for others. Her evidence, ideas, and arguments make significant and lasting contributions to our understanding of whiteness as a social construction. The vivid and poignant portraits of the lives of second-generation Iranian Americans that form the evidentiary base of this brilliant book reveal whiteness to be a fickle and volatile category, an ever shifting entity shaped by political, cultural, linguistic, and religious practices that initially might seem to have little to do with race."

—George Lipsitz, author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

"The Limits of Whiteness is cutting-edge scholarship at its best. Beautifully written and insightfully researched, it engages discussions of race and racialization of Iranian Americans with unprecedented depth and rigor. This is essential reading for those who care about the fraught and capacious legacies, and afterlives, of Middle Eastern and American racial projects."

—Sarah Gualtieri, University of Southern California