Whereas instruments like the US Census classify Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Americans as white, racial formation-informed research has established that this population holds an ambiguous relationship with whiteness. I draw on theories of the self and cognition to introduce reflected race as an underexplored dimension of MENA racialization. Interviews with 84 Iranian Americans demonstrate how group members perceive they are appraised as distinct from and, in some ways, subordinate to a hegemonic US white norm. Following initial illegibility (“what?”) in racial appraisal, respondents perceive a classificatory splitting from whiteness and/or lumping with similarly racialized others. In other words, they micro-interactionally move from “white” to “what?” and ultimately, to an uncertain but deeply felt sense non-white reflected race. By turning attention to social-psychological-informed phenomenon like reflected race, researchers can make more full use of racialization and racial formation as the dynamic, multi-level concepts they were originally theorized to be.
Maghbouleh, N. (2020). From white to what? MENA and Iranian American non-white reflected race. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43(4), 613–631. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2019.1599130