Invisible Identities: The Selective Racialization of Iranian Students

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Sabihi, Samantha Sama
Kelly, Bridget T
Southwest Asian and North Africans (SWANAs) are racially marked as white in the United States, despite their negative representation in the media resulting in their marginalization, similar to other Communities of Color (Tehranian, 2009). This study specifically focuses on the experience of second generation Iranian immigrants due to their religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity; the timing of their parents’ mass migration to the U.S.; the increased political tension between Iran and the U.S.; and, because of an Aryan myth perpetuated by first generation Iranians who perceive themselves as white (Maghbouleh, 2017). Little research exists to highlight the discriminatory experiences of SWANAs, or Iranians, with a racial lens as opposed to a religious one. Even fewer studies explore this in the context of higher education. This study explores the messaging second generation Iranians receive from their parents, peers, institutions such as universities, and society about their racial identity. This research relies on John Tehranian’s (2009) conceptual framework, selective racialization, which views racialization as the sum of actions occurring from systemic and individual levels. This study is guided by the following questions: (1) What messages do second generation Iranians receive about their racial identity? (2) How do they respond to these messages? (3) How do they perceive the university playing a role in their racial identity development, if at all? Using a critical constructivist epistemology (Kincheloe, 2005) and a narrative inquiry methodology, this study interviewed how five second generation Iranian immigrants understood and navigated their racial identity. Participants shared different messaging they received at the interpersonal, institutional, and societal levels. These messages had impacts on their visibility which depended on their representation, cultural retention, and their proximity to whiteness. This study concludes with implications for both research and practice based on detailed findings provided by participants.