In the Shadow of Whiteness: Middle Eastern and North African Identity in the US

Project: Research project

Project Details


Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) individuals are one of the most visible yet understudied groups in the United States (note: proposal discusses the use of ‘MENA’ versus ‘SWANA’). They are victims of hate crimes, stereotyped as terrorists, and subject to heightened governmental surveillance and restrictive travel policies. Consequently, many are surprised to learn MENA individuals have been legally classified as white since 1909. Whenever MENA individuals are asked to legally classify themselves or answer demographic questions on forms, they have little choice but to choose the white category. This has precluded serious scholarship on MENA individuals, who are either subsumed into the white category or identified by proxy as Muslims (most of whom are South and East-Asian). This is also a missed opportunity to isolate whether MENA individuals see themselves as a distinct ethnoracial group, and if/how MENA individuals negotiate their ancestral, racial, and religious identities along with the sources of discrimination they face. The co-PI’s previous work suggests MENA identity sits at the intersection between racial and religious lines. Accordingly, we propose two studies to understand the existence of MENA identity for MENA individuals, as well as the political consequences of that identity. Proposed Studies 1a and 1b focus on the extent to which a MENA identity exists and its potential impact on political behaviors and opinions. Proposed Study 1a uses an experiment embedded in a survey to accomplish this. Proposed Study 1b uses in-depth interviews to uncover the process by which MENA individuals understand their ethnoracial identity. Moreover, Proposed Study 1a investigates second-order beliefs about MENA and Muslim individuals. That is, what do MENA individuals think white Americans believe about the group? Proposed Study 2 offers a novel survey which compares MENA individuals’ second-order believes with white Americans’ first-order beliefs abou
Effective start/end date9/16/219/30/22


  • American Political Science Association (AGMT 9/16/21 // 2000500)
  • National Science Foundation (AGMT 9/16/21 // 2000500)


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