The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race

October 29, 2017

Neda Maghbouleh

Sunday, October 29, 4:00PM–6:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities and Roundhouse Radio.

In this talk, based on her new book The Limits of Whiteness (2017, Stanford University Press), sociologist Neda Maghbouleh shares the under-theorized, and sometimes-heartbreaking story of how Iranian Americans move across a white/not-white color line. She documents how teenagers and young adults navigate their ambiguous racial status in childhood homes, American schools and neighborhoods, at a co-ethnic summer camp, and in travels to and from the Iranian "homeland." A century’s worth of neglected historical and legal evidence contextualizes their stories. From this data, she offers two concepts: the first, “racial hinges,” captures how the geographic, political, and pseudoscientific specter of a racially liminal group, like Iranians, is marshaled by a variety of legal and extralegal actors into a symbolic hinge that opens or closes the door to whiteness. The second, “racial loopholes,” describes the everyday contradictions and conflicts that emerge when a group’s legal racial categorization is inconsistent with its on-the-ground experience of racialization or deracialization. By challenging underlying assumptions in the sociology of race/ethnicity and immigration, The Limits of Whiteness offers new evidence for how and which "white" groups might become "brown," and what such a transformation says about race in North America today. 


Born in New York City and raised in Portland, Oregon, Neda Maghbouleh is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research addresses the everyday lives of racialized people, including a new study of Syrian refugees in Toronto, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Government of Canada, Ministry of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship.