Classified as White: Racial Classifications of Americans of Middle Eastern & North African Descent

By | September 4, 2019

>>From the Library of
Congress, in Washington, DC.>>Good afternoon,
ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the African and
Middle East Division of the Library of Congress, and to our
noontime lecture series, with today’s program
entitled “Classified as white: Historical insights into the
racial classification of Americans of African and Middle East decent.” I’m Joan Weeks, Head of the Near
East section and Turkey Specialist. On behalf of all my colleagues,
in particular Dr. Mary Jane Deeb, Chief of the Division, I’d like to extend a very
warm welcome to everyone. And before we get started, we always
like to give you a little overview of the division and the resources
in the hopes that you’ll come back and use the collections
for your research. The division is comprised
of 3 sections that build and serve the collections to
researchers from around the world. We cover 75 countries and
more than 2 dozen languages. The Africa section includes the
countries of all sub-Saharan Africa. The Hebraic section is responsible
for Judaica and Hebraic worldwide. And the Near East section covers
all of the Arab countries, including North Africa, Turkey,
Turkic Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Muslims of
Western China, Russia, the Balkans, and the peoples of the
Caucasus, as well as Armenia. After the program, we’d
like to invite you to fill in the evaluation forms we’ve
placed in your seats and leave them at the information desk at the front
of the reading room as you exit. Now I’d like to invite Dr. Muhannad
Salhi, our Arab World Specialist, to the podium to introduce our
speaker for today’s program.>>Good afternoon, everybody,
thank you all for joining us. Our speaker today, Randa Kayyali,
is a Professorial Lecturer in Anthropology at George Washington
University’s Elliott School for International Affairs. She received her doctorate
from George Mason University in cultural studies in 2013, and an
MA from American University in Cairo in sociology anthropology. Dr. Kayyali has taught Arab World
Studies at American University in Washington DC, and was a
post-doctoral research fellow at Ali Vural AK Center
for Global Islamic Studies at Georgia Mason University. She published the Arab-Americans
Greenwood Press 2006, which she received a book award from
the Arab-American National Museum, and was translated into
Arabic as [foreign language]. She is the author of a chapter
on family in the edited volume, “Daily Life of Arab-Americans
in the 21st Century,” and “US Census Classifications
of Arab-Americans, contestations and definitions of identity
markers,” in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies,
published in September of 2013. She currently serves on
the board and as treasurer of the Arab-American Studies
Association and as co-chair of the tri-annual convention. So without further
ado, Dr. Randa Kayyali. [ Applause ]>>I’d like to thank Muhannad
and the staff here at the Library of Congress, the Africa Middle
East Division, for their kindness and inviting me and welcoming
me to this lecture series. I’d also like to thank the
Arab-American National Museum and Helen Samhan [assumed
spelling] for the images that you will see in
this PowerPoint. This piece is a work in
progress, so I hope — and I’m looking forward to the
question-and-answer session. The classification of Middle
Easterners and North Africans in the US as white by race
stretches back over a century ago. In light of the possibility that
there might be a new Middle Eastern and North African box, MENA box, and I’ll use that acronym
throughout my presentation, on the 20/20 census form. This historical research has
contemporary significance. In today’s presentation,
we will learn that debates of the MENA racial
classifications are not novel, and that a deeper examination
of history and critique of historical narratives offers
the contemporary reader 3 noteworthy insights. Firstly, the naturalization
rulings in US courts that determine the eligibility of
early MENA’s to US citizenship show that labels of the geographic
region and the perceptions of people within them determined race. While they’re ultimately classified
as white, and therefore grouped with Europeans, those with
Middle Eastern origins were noted as from Asia in terms of
Continental assignments, but not ultimately Asiatic
or Mongolian by race. Secondly, I will show
that the judges in these cases drew a Christian
Muslim binary and placed a premium on their origins in the Mohammed
world, as it was called back then. Occasionally noting the Eastern
rites of their Christianity, and generally grouping Syrian
Christians with Islam by culture, even if they were recognized
as Christian. Finally, the history of the US
Census classifications indicates that MENA’s have been identified by
factors other than race and religion on official forms issued by the
US government for over a century, specifically through
questions relating to ancestry and language spoken at home. In other words, then is now. There are additional ways
to access ethnic identity within a broad racial white
racial classification. So it’s a bit of background. Since 1977, the US government
and particularly the Office of Management and Budget has
classified white as a person — in quotes, “a person having origins
in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle
East, or North Africa.” Although geographic boundaries
of the MENA region are undefined, I consider the main ethnic
groups in MENA to be Iranians, Persians, Turks, and Arabs. But the region also
includes significant numbers of minority ethnic groups,
namely the Armazi, the Kurds, and Armenians, as wells
as ethno-religious groups, including Chadians, Assyrians,
Syriacs, Maronites, cults, and Jews. And often language is tied to
each one of these collectivities. This presentation will focus on
how people from all of these groups from the MENA region came to be
classified by the US government in official records
before World War II. Racially, they were classified as
white in 2 batches of legal cases. The first set, by Syrian
Christians, between 1909 in 1915. And the second set,
by Muslim Arabians. These are terms that
were used in these cases. In 1942 and ’44. Through an examination of
immigration categories, census questions, and racial
prerequisite cases, legal cases, I will strive to highlight how
geography, race, and religion were, in fact, intertwined,
and provide insights into how mainstream American
society viewed MENA Americans as between white and nonwhite. So I wanted to ask
you as the audience if there was ever a time you’ve been
mistaken for a member of an ethnic, religious, or national group
that you did not belong to. And how did that make you feel. If you felt that it was a compliment and positive mistaken
identity, put up your hands. Okay, nice, 3. And if you felt that it
was something that hurt you or is negative, put up your hands. Okay, so about even. We’re going to talk a
little bit about that today. Sorry. Okay, so in the first
sort of phase of immigration, you had the Philadelphia, there were
men from North Africa who traveled or were brought to the US as slaves. The Philadelphia World’s Fair of
1876 brought people and delegations from the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and
Tunisia to showcase their countries. The Ottoman exhibit heavily
featured Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem and Jerusalem
who were marketed as being from the Bible land
or the holy land, with shepherds herding
the flocks and images that were called the
Arabian nights fables. They sold religious items
such as olive wood crucifixes from Bethlehem, rosary beads, and
mother-of-pearl decorative items. This was part of the Ottoman
Empire strategy to show the world that they treated their
religious minorities with respect. And yet there are media
reports, US media reports, of surprise that there
were Christians who were Ottoman Turkish subjects. Because Arabs and Turks
were perceived in the US to be followers of Mohammed. Some of these merchants stayed
on such, as Joseph Abien Matter, who is recorded in the 1880
census as living in Philadelphia. so usually I’m just going to cite 5
reasons that are cited for the onset of the first phase of immigration
which began in 1880, or about there, it’s not an exact cutoff
date, of course. And that these immigrants came
from Bilad Al-Sham, or Syria, an Ottoman province that encompass
present-day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and parts of
Jordan, and they came to the US. The fair had prompted stories
of wealth and success to be had from selling goods to Americans
and offered the lure of adventure. Combined with the economic downturn
of the economy due to the collapse of silk factories, or
sericulture, on Mount Lebanon, the financial incentives of
living and earning money in the US for a few years were strong. An argument I find
compelling is the influence of the Christian missionaries
from the US establishing and teaching schools in the region. Also cited that, in my opinion,
less likely due to the dates, is the sectarian violence, particularly the Drupe Maronite
clashes on Mount Lebanon, and the riots in Damascus. However, the deterioration of the
Ottoman Empire and the conscription of young Christian and Jewish men
into the Army required in 1909 by the Ottoman Empire were
significant factors in the choice of young men to move continents. So I’m going to come back
to the issue of Mallets. Okay, this is a picture of the
Zainea family from Damascus, and this is when they
were there in Damascus. I believe that they are
possibly Orthodox, Rome, or Roman Catholic Melkites. From their dress, they
were definitely urban, and probably elite. A little background though I want
to give you on the Ottoman Empire. In 1516, the Ottoman Empire
is invaded Bilad Al-Sham, and continued to rule almost
continuously until World War I. The Ottoman Empire gave Sunni
Muslims the primary place as socially and culturally superior to the other communities
in the Empire. In the 19th century, the
state solidified legal and sociopolitical
structures for non-Muslims. In these Millets, which I mentioned
on the last slide, Christian and Jewish subjects were permitted
to regulate their own communities and given some autonomy in
terms of family laws, taxation, and collective representation. The largest Christian millet
in the 18th and 19th century, in the Syrian province, was the
Orthodox Christian or Rome Mallets. You’d write it in English as RUM. According to their own
ecclesiastical structures, these Orthodox Christians
fell under 2 patriarchates, the larger Greek-dominated
patriarchate, or Sea of Constantinople, and the
smaller Arabic-speaking patriarchate of Antioch that was headquartered in
Damascus and had the areas now known as Lebanon and Syria
under its jurisdiction. In 1848, the Empire gave Greek
Catholics, called RUM Catholic in Arabic, who were in union with the Roman Catholic
Church, a millet of their own. These Greek Catholics,
which, despite the name, were explicitly Arabic speaking in
services, as well as colloquially, were also known as
malekites or King’s men, sir name for their loyalty to
the Byzantine Empires Emperors. Roman Catholics who were not
part of the Melkites church and Protestants were
granted extraordinary status as protected foreigners,
and Maronites and other Latin rites were
dealt with at the level of the local provincial
administrations. This patchwork of treatment
gave religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire a
degree of religious freedom, but they were also required
to submit to Ottoman demands and the Islamic character
of the state or Empire. This is the backdrop against which
many of the immigrants arrived in the US and perceived identity. The Ottoman Millets and decentralized system ingrained
identity as defined by religion, broadly Christian, Jewish,
Muslim, and noted the differences between religious sects for
Christians, Roman Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant,
and Maronite, for example. And that underlined which
areas and sects were answerable to which patriarchs, to which
religious figures, to which rabbis. Whether or not the existence
of Mallets created the violence and discrimination against
Christians in Mount Lebanon or the riots in the city of Damascus in the late 19th century
became less important for the immigrants upon their
arrival in their new countries in South and North
America then the fact that they’d come from
the Ottoman Empire. So going back to my question, the migrants from below Bilad
Al-Sham were recorded as Ottoman, or from Turkey in Asia, and
sometimes from Palestine or Syria, in official immigration
records in the US, until the end of the Ottoman Empire
officially dissolved in 1923. Religion was not recorded and so
estimates of religious breakdowns of the Syrian migrants are
problematic, but we can assume that many of the non-Turkish
Ottoman subjects might object to classification as Ottoman. Because Ottoman was seen
as synonymous with Turkish, which was ethnically and linguistically
differentiated from Arabic speakers. Back home, these immigrants had
informally used the term Turk to refer to Muslims. And in the US, Turk and even Syrian
connoted an Islamic identification. This popular assumption in the US in the early 19th century was
well-founded, was well illustrated by a pulp fiction story that
appeared in the American Magazine in 1912 that I found nestled in the
NAF archives at the Smithsonian. In the story, Emily, a
curious young farm girl, asked a self-described
peddler from Syria, aren’t they Mohammedans,
your people? And when he explains that his
mother belonged to the Greek church but that he was Presbyterian,
Emily was incredulous. Emily was impressed with
how exotic this peddler was, different from her
family in every way, because of his backgrounds
in a far-off land. Even if he was Christian,
he seemed Mohammedan. Today, of course, we do
not use the term Mohammedan because Muslims don’t
worship Mohammad, but back then it was sort
of standard practice. The blurring of the East with Islam
follows a traditional Orientalist binary that posits the Orient
as defined in opposition to the Occident and
Western Christianity. In his critique of
Orientalis, Edward Siad pointed out that those Orientalist
scholars, such as Masagnul, saw Eastern Christians
as subsumed within Islam, and as part of a monolithic East which had Islam as
the superstructure. At a time when the US was
increasingly xenophobic, this association with Islamic
other was particularly problematic, especially for immigrants from the
East who wanted to gain material and social status in the US. Alixa Naff, authored a
seminal history book called “Becoming American, the
early Arab experience,” and it was published in 1985. And it truly began a deeper interest
in the history of the Syrians, in particular, but Arabs in general. Though her book in large collection
is housed at the Smithsonian, she initiated a dominant
narrative of the early experience as she called it, meaning
before World War II. Within Arab-American studies, there
is a dominant historical narrative of the poor illiterate farmer
from a village in Mount Lebanon or Syria who came to the US. First arriving in New York at Ellis
Island, and then staying or living for a few days or possibly longer in
what was called the mother colony, which was the Syrian colony that
existed at the tip of Manhattan. And then that traveler would
possibly travel by train to meet family members or friends
and start peddling with the goods that he bought, because most of
this discourse is for single men, with the goods in New York. This photo of a peddler is
somewhat iconic to that narrative. NAF estimated that as much
as 95% of the immigrants from Syria were Christian
before World War II. While another historian
calculated that nearly 90% of all Arabic-speaking immigrants
arriving the US before 1924 were Syrian Christians from
Mount Lebanon. According to these historians,
the Arabic-speaking immigrants to the US would have been
Christian with a minority of Drupe and Sunni Muslims. This is a young fellow
that is an example that the dominant narrative does
contain some truths, in my mind. Toufic here was all of those things. He was a single male
who immigrated in 1914. Was a Maronite Christian from
the village in Mount Lebanon, Bqaatouta, east of Beirut. He was a farmer in that village and
was unschooled, probably illiterate, and became a laborer and a peddler
in the US, where he changed his name by adding Ellis, after
his father Ellis. In 1919, he opened a cigar
store with his uncle, and later produced arak, an aniseed
flavored spirit, during prohibition. In 1925, Toufic returned to
Lebanon to fetch a bride. Returning to the US a year later,
where he and his wife had his family and lived out the rest
of their days. This photo may represent
the marginalized narrative of early Arab-American history. There is a dearth of information,
or even ongoing research, regarding Egyptian, Iranian, Yemeni,
and North African immigrants. This photo shows an
allegiance to the Ottoman Empire through the fezzes, which are the
hats that are shaped like a cone, and the Star and Crescent on what
looks like to me a water pipe or possibly a decorative silver
or brass vase, it’s at the top of the vase you can see the Star. These were possibly
Egyptians, possibly Muslim. And the alternative
discourse I believe needs to be further researched. Who were these immigrants? How do they fit in or differ from
the narratives on the Syrians? Why did their race never come
up in legal cases until the end, where you hear Yemeni
debates, debates on the Yemeni? However, Syrian identity was
recognized in the US Census. In the 1900, 1910,
and 1920 censuses, Syrian were a recognized group within the population
statistics of foreign-born whites. In the 1910 in 1920 censuses, Syria
was listed as a separate birthplace, even though it was still officially
part of the Ottoman Empire. During World War I, 1914
to 1918, being associated with the Ottoman Empire became
more of a political problem rather than just an identification issue. Because the US sided with the
Allies against the Axis powers, including the Ottoman Empire. This solidified a move away from
associations with the Ottoman Empire for the Syrians, a shift
in identity, supported and recognized by the
US Census Bureau. By 1930, the census, the
Ottoman Empire had collapsed, a new country of birth
appellations became necessary. The Census Bureau asked its
census takers or enumerators to record the country
of birth according to present geopolitical
locations in 1930. This is specifically mentioning,
as you can see, the list up there. This indicates to the researcher
that there were other types of MENA’s present in the US
and that the Census Bureau was also recognizing. And another way that
Syrians were recognized was through language spoken at
home, which was recorded. And the 1910 census asked, can
the person speak English, if not, what language does the person speak. And both Syrian and
Turkish were listed as principal foreign languages
spoken in the US, but not Arabic. I don’t know the reason for that. But that’s something
that is interesting. And yet, in 1920, the options on the
respondent’s mother tongue expanded to include Arabic, and
then again in 1930, the options included Egyptians. So in 1930, they had
Syrian, Arabic, and Egyptian. However, the Syrian
community was not monolithic, even if we just take it as Syrian. An Academic Philip Carey Hitti,
published a study in 1924 on Syrians in America that found
that most were Christian. Most numerous among the
Syrians were the Maronites, followed by the Orthodox
and Greek Catholics, Melkites, and then Protestants. While these churches
indicated a healthy community, the divisions between sects and nations were becoming
increasingly prevalent. New countries were being established
under colonial powers by the 1920, divided between British and
French colonial authorities. Coming back to the US, in 1910, the
census enumerators were instructed to note down their nativity. And if the respondent said
that their parents nativity was in Turkey, they were asked
to note the Asia part. Although the Syrian province is
located in Asia, they did not want to be considered Asian due to
the prevailing Asian exclusion and restrictions, which
were well-known. Until 1909, MENA’s had assumed
the privileges of whiteness. They were granted citizenship
without much deliberation. They held political offices. And they owned property, even in
states where property ownership by aliens was prohibited. The Naturalization era began — I’m moving but I’ll
come back to this topic. The Naturalization era began
with the 1790 Naturalization Act, which stipulated that only
free white persons could become US citizens. The racial designation as
white became a prerequisite for naturalization and for
full rights as a US citizen. The question then became, who
qualified to be a free white person. And this decision was
determined by the courts, and in particular, by judges. Armenians, Mexicans, Indians, and
Sikhs all faced racial, and others, all faced racial prerequisite
cases between 1909 and 1923. But 1 in 3 racial prerequisite
cases heard in the US federal courts
were of Syrians. Obviously this number far
exceeds the percentage of Syrians or even MENA’s in the US population, indicating that the racial
ascription of Syrians was in question legally and
perhaps socially at the time. After the Syrian Christians white
racial ascription had been finally determined in 1915, and
I’m going to go over these, in overturning the
case of George Dow, other cases popped up in the 1940s. These were of 2 men who were Muslim. One, an Amen man whose petition
for naturalization was rejected. And one of a Saudi whose petition to be naturalized in
the US was permitted. At issue in these cases
was not just race and religion, as we will discover. According to Ian Hani Lopez, a
critical race and legal scholar, there are 4 main types
of arguments for and against determining
whether the Syrians were white. Scientific evidence,
congressional intent, common knowledge, and
legal precedent. The scientific evidence
claims were rooted in racial development theories
that examine the biological origins of the human and white race. Judges deliberated over and weighed
arguments over the differences between white and Caucasian. And in the case of Nojor and Madari,
Syrians were found to be Semites. Semites were Caucasian,
and Caucasians were white. In the congressional intent
arguments, the intent of the authors of the Naturalization
Act were examined. Since most free white
persons in 1790 were European, the question revolved around
whether Syrians were qualified to be free white persons
as Congress had attended or whether common knowledge
of today dictated that the Syrians were
or were not white. I will argue that there were
more significant factors in determining the race of the
Syrians, and later the Arabians. Primary among these was a choice,
a strategy, to distance themselves from Asian-ness, even though
Syria was technically located in Western Asia, and to place
their origins closer to Europe. The mental geography of
this choice was a key in establishing their
legal claims to whiteness. For the Syrians, there was also a
distancing from traits associated with Islam that were believed
at the time to be unassailable into the American polity, namely
polygamy and a Democratic mind. So there were alternative framings for racial determinations,
in my analysis. In 1909, George Shishim, a
policeman in Venice, California, arrested a young man for
disturbing the peace. The young man’s father, a prominent
lawyer, challenged Shishim’s right to arrest his son on the
basis that Shishim was not and could not be a US citizen. Although Shishim had lived in
California for about 20 years, his naturalization was in
question due to his origins in the Ottoman Empire’s
lands called Turkey, in Asia. Friends pulled their resources
and hired a lawyer, Byron Hanna, a fellow countrymen,
to defend Shishim. As part of their case, they wrote
to academics and universities to inquire about the ethnological
background of their ancestry, and argued that Syrians
were Christians — Syrians were Caucasian, sorry. In the final court hearing,
Shishim declared to the judge, and I do love this quote, “If I
am Mongolian, then so was Jesus, because we came from the same land.” In fact, the way in which Shishim
articulated his origins claimed a more authentic Christianity,
rooted in the land of the Bible. A Christianity that
was more authentic than the judge’s presumed
Christianity as a Protestant. This line of reasoning dovetailed
with the racial ideology in the US that had hallmarked Jesus
as white at the time. The judge dismissed religion as
a factor that determined race. But Shishim’s declaration convinced
the judge that he was not Asian. And he ruled that Shishim was white, and therefore eligible
for citizenship. After the decision was read, George
Shishim took his oath of allegiance to the United States
before he left the court. Despite this ruling, the
Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization continued to deny some Syrian
Americans US citizenship, and naturalization therefore. Many of the legal arguments in
the early cases regarding the race of Arab-Americans centered
on being from the holy land and a practicing Christian of good
morals, sober, and industrious. There’s many legal cases about this. By indicating to the court
that they were Christians, early Arab-Americans were
distancing themselves from Islam. This was a strategy based on the
negative image of Islam in the eyes of immigration specialists
and judges who were practically
concerned with the polygamy and its associative immorality. In these cases, polygamy
was associated with Muslim, and was considered unassailable. In fact, some Syrians had been
turned away at Ellis Island and other ports of entry
because they were Muslim, and therefore potentially
polygamists, regardless of whether or not they were married. There’s a story of a 15-year-old
boy who was turned away because he was Muslim, because
he could become polygamist. These laws were originally
put on the books actually to exclude Mormons, not
Muslims, in another note. In some ways I agree with the
legal scholar Khaled Beydoun that there were clear cognitive
links made in these cases. He argues, Muslims were
presumed to be nonwhite, and Arabs were presumed
to be Muslims. Arabs were presumptively
ineligible for citizenship. There was a conflation
of Arab and Muslim, a conflation that persists
today despite many efforts at educating the public at large. In the 1910s, these petitioners,
Syrian Christians all of them, did invoke their religion
to secure citizenship, but they were often believed to not
be real Christians by the judges. This was due to the
presumption that every immigrant from the Arab world was
Muslim, as Bethune argues. However, I maintain that
religion was not the legal proxy for race, culture was. The perceived culture of the
immigrants and the perceived culture of America in which the
immigrants were determined to be assimilable or
not assimilable. These Christians, Eastern
Christians, if I may, were presumed to be
culturally Muslim. They had come from an Islamic
empire and had customs similar to their neighbors who
were and are today Muslim. They were not considered to be religio-culturally
American in their Christianity. Many of the Christians followed
Eastern rites and liturgies in their services, forms of
worship that were unfamiliar to Americans accustomed to
Latin, Roman Catholics services, or English language
Protestant churches. Occasionally, as in
the case of Ellis, the petitioner’s sect were
referred to by the judges. Ellis was Maronite. Even when they determined that religion was not
a factor in the ruling. These cases persisted in coming up. Costanozure and Ellis were ruled
to be white and were naturalized. Until in 1913, Farez Shahid
was denied naturalization. After all these legal
precedents by fellows Syrians, Syrian Christian countrymen,
why was Shahid’s petition for naturalization denied? Although the judge does state in
his ruling that he was a Christian, and that he is coming from
the very cradle of the Jewish and Christian religions, his
origins were in Zile, in Asia minor, in Syria, and he uses the term
Asia minor here, and Syria. And the judge noted, he
writes his name in Arabic but cannot read or write English. Most significantly, he’s accused
of potentially being a polygamist and a disbeliever in
organized government. Because it seems he could
not understand the questions which were posed in English,
this is my assessment. These last 2 points are
substitutes for claiming that he is Muslim by culture. Polygamy and a lack of
Democratic mind were 2 reasons that Muslims were turned
away from Ellis Island. The judge even asks and answers,
what is the race or color of the modern inhabitant of Syria. It is impossible to say. But then the judge reasoned
that complex history and the Arabian Mahatma eruption,
and I’m not sure what he means by that, has meant that the
race of Syrians is inconclusive. He wrote, one Syrian may be of pure
or almost pure Jewish, Turkish, or Greek blood, and another,
the pureblooded descendent of an Egyptian, an
Abyssinian, or a Sudanese. Presumably the former grouping
would be considered white, and the latter, nonwhite. Flummoxed, the judge rejected
Shahid’s application based on his own personal
disqualifications. Which I interpret to mean his
illiteracy but also his inability to deny cultural traits
associated with Islam in English. Now, the final case was George Dow. He was rejected for
naturalization twice, and in the Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals was granted citizenship. In the first 2 petitions,
judge Smith stated that although Dow was
Maronite, a Christian, religion should not
be the basis for race. His petition was denied by Judge
Smith twice because he was Asiactic, and therefore not white, and so
not eligible for US citizenship. This geographic, continental
even, association was the focus of the appeal case, and the
ruling that overturned Dow and stopped the questioning
of the Syrian’s whiteness. In Dow versus the United
States in 1915, the judge ruled certain Asiatics
near the Mediterranean Sea, including Syrians, were
generally classed as white people. Their physical attributes tipped
the scale on not being Asian. Listen to the judge’s
reasoning in this case. Physically, the modern
Syrians are of mixed Syrian, Arabian, and even Jewish blood. They belong to the Semitic
branch of the Caucasian race, thus widely differing from
their rulers, the Turks, who were in origin Mongolian. The Syrians did not look Asian and
so were not classified as Asian, and this is in the
American mind, right. And were therefore
considered white by default. It’s as if white was the
leftover bucket category when one deducted black,
Native American, and Asian. The sheer number of cases in
proportion to their population in the US indicates that Syrian
whiteness was not a slam-dunk race categorization. This was highlighted, once
again, in the second set of cases that I mentioned in the
introduction, in 1942, when a Yemeni man petitioned
for his right to naturalize and become a US citizen and was rejected again while his
religion was not on trial, per se, his geographic religious
origins were. Listen closely again
to the judge’s words. Apart from the dark
skin of the Arabs, so this typical association
here, apart from the dark skin of the Arabs, it was well
known that they are part of the Mohammedan world, and that
a wide gulf separates their culture from that of the predominantly
Christian peoples of Europe. It was a cultural and civilizational
divide that made Afan Hassan of Detroit, Michigan, nonwhite. The judge wrote, the court finds
that the petitioner is an Arab, and that Arabs are not white persons
within the meaning of the act. Not only are Arab, Muslim, and
nonwhite intertwined in this ruling, but also the binary of Christian
West and Islamic East looms large. The ruling was overturned when
a Saudi man, Mohamed Maharez, was granted naturalization in 1944. The judge wrote, the Arab
passes muster as a white person. And reflected that the
rigid exclusion of persons of Chinese nationality and of the
yellow race, and this is his term, went against our vital
interests as a world power and of a democratic liberalism. It was clear from the
racial ruling in this case, which cemented all
peoples from MENA as white, that global politics played a role. And that specifically there was
a desire, this in the ruling, to promote friendlier relations
between the United States and other nations,
specifically Saudi Arabia, in this case in the early ’40s. Just prior to that moment in 1933, the Arabian American oil company
now had brought together the US and Saudi interests in drilling
for oil in the Arabian Peninsula. The fact that there were racial
prerequisite cases for MENA’s until 1944 indicates that the racial
classification, almost to the end of the Naturalization era
in 1952, were significant. In 1952, the Immigration and
Naturalization Act was passed, thus ending the Naturalization era. This presentation works towards
answering why and how the Syrians, and later Arabians, came to be white
by race in the 1977 OMB ruling. The placement of MENA’s
and the ordering of races and their associative geographies
was complicated and contested in the Naturalization era. At the turn-of-the-century, there
were considered as from Turkey and Asia or Turkey in brackets Asia. And through the court cases,
they were determined not to be Asiatic or Mongolian. This led them away from the
constraints of Asian exclusion laws but towards the appellation
of a province, Syria, that would shortly break
up into colonial states with the end of the Ottoman Empire. Later, this would be re-grouped into
a new geographic label, Middle East and North Africa, and was
included with Europeans in the broad white racial category. Religion and race are not
always intertwined in reality. Immigrants and their descendants from the region have
been characterized by Islamic culture civilization. Historically, the majority of
these immigrants were Christian. And there continues to be
large percentages of Christians in the immigrant populations from
Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. I estimate that approximately
half, or possibly more, of the MENA population in
the US today is Christian. This includes many Christian
groups, including Chadians, Syrians, Maronites, Orthodox, and others. The historical and ongoing
conflation of Arab and Muslim, and MENA and Muslim, is inaccurate,
and perhaps especially in the US. If there is a MENA category in the
2020 census, care must be taken not to typify this category
as most Muslim. While population figures on
religious identity are not tabulated by federal agencies, official
classifications, have historically and continue to, count more
than race for MENA Americans. While nativity is no longer
collected by the census, national origins are tabulated
in naturalization statistics. The American community
survey administered annually by the US Census Bureau
tabulates both language spoken at home and ancestry. These indicators are important
to better understand the needs of the MENA populations
and remain ways in which identities alternatively
formed through subnational groupings and even colloquial dialects
that are increasingly written in fiction and in literature more. These changes, however, are not new, and many of these lessons can be
learned from historical research. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Thank you, Dr. Randa. We not have a few minutes
for questions and answers. Just a quick note to the audience,
this program is being recorded, so while we encourage your
participation, by asking questions, you are consenting to you
having your voice recorded in later webcasts.>>I hope it was scintillating.>>Yes. [ Inaudible Question ]>>I’m not sure if I can answer it. The question was, in 1977,
what was the situation with the Census Bureau before that, and then why was race
classified that way. I mean, my whole talk is sort of
preparing us to understand why in 1977, it was included like that. There was that shift by
the Syrians at first, and then even in the later cases
as well, to classify Middle East and North African with
white, with Europeans. And I think that was a strategy. I’m not sure how the Census
Bureau calculated it before. I know in 1960, it turned
to self-enumeration, so you didn’t have an enumerator,
unless you didn’t fill it out. Come by and like fill it out for
you, which you did before 1960. So there was a switch in
terms of empowering people to answer how they self-identified. And I believe in 1970, it was
still the case that Syrians or MENA’s were classified as
white, because in the 1910 census, they were classified
as foreign-born white. So I would assume that in
1970, that was true as well. But as I argue in this
paper, there’s other ways in which ethnicity
is accessed, right. So through ancestry
questions, language spoken. Yes? [ Inaudible Question ] Okay, the first question is, what
were the numbers in this period that we we’re looking at. And this is really the only
piece that we really have, that I put up on the screen,
in terms of the numbers. There are some estimates that
think this is a little bit wrong, and it’s about 220,000 in the
1920s, but that’s about it. So in 1924, there was a law passed
that restricted immigration. So these numbers, the Syrians were
given quotas, it’s a longer story, and so only 100 were
allowed to come in per year if it wasn’t a family
reunification issue. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t
more, because there were people that were able to sponsor
other family members through family reunification. But in terms of new immigrants,
only 100 a year after 1924. So this number wouldn’t
have grown exponentially. So I would say about 220,000. In terms of your question
about how did the English and French categorize immigrants, I’m not sure if they really
calculated that they were immigrants within an “E” right, from
the colonial territories that they administered. So in particular France had
control over Lebanon, Syria, and the British had control over
Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan, as they were called
at or Transjordan. And I’m not sure what
they would’ve calculated, but they definitely
would’ve preferred probably for people not to leave. So they may not have made
those figures official. But that’s something that I
could research a bit more. Thank you, Dominick. Yes, Mary Jane? [ Inaudible Question ] So the question is, was religion
an issue for non-MENA peoples, and the answer would
be yes in total. I mean, it depended on what
religion we’re talking about, but religion was pretty much a
very prominent concern for people. This is a quite xenophobic
era that I’m talking about, sort of 1890 to about 1920,
1925, it was really a moment that the US was very concerned
about other religions. So for example, the Chinese
Exclusion Act definitely had to do with believing them to
be Confusion, right. So you know, there was that concern. There was also religions
within the US that were a concern
to sort of xenophobic. So like I said, the polygamist
law was passed in 1892, and it was against Mormons who
were coming in through Mexico. So and it was to bar them
from entering the US. So I mean, if you take this sort
of writ large, there were concerns, there were strong concerns against
Catholics, even, from Italy, and from Ireland, even though at
that point the Irish had lived in the US for a longer time. And from Eastern Europe, you have
Slavs, some of whom are Muslim, some of whom are Eastern Orthodox. All, even the Eastern Orthodox,
and that’s what sort of interesting to me when I’m reading this,
were really considered outsiders. That there was a fear of Eastern
Orthodox, not to the extent maybe of Muslims, but there were fears
that a WASP nation was changing. So the quotas that I was just
mentioning that were enacted, were based on the 1890 census,
which is a long time before 1924. And the reason that they
were picking that is because the Congress wanted the type
of immigrants that came in in 1890, who were traditionally
Western Northern Europeans. So that plays into your question
about religion, because, in fact, religion was a factor in excluding
people, and particularly Asians. I mean, I think that although
I’m looking at MENA’s, Asians really had it really rough. In the back? [ Inaudible Question ] So the question is, how did the
Armenian racial prerequisite cases, the one in 1920, impact the
racial classifications of Syrians. And they did borrow a little
bit from the Armenian success. So there were 2 cases,
one was earlier and then one was in the 1920s. And the Armenians were
very successful, right, in not having it come back. So they petitioned, and they
were granted naturalization, and they became US citizens
through these cases. And it is similar to the MENA
cases that I’m looking at, particularly Syrian Christian cases. Because once again, their
Christianity is not sort of accepted as being the norm. And the norm meaning a Protestant, a vague Protestant norm,
a WASP type of norm. And so as Eastern Christians, they also faced discrimination
on the same basis. I believe they used the
same anthropologists. So the anthropologists would go in
and look at where the peoples were and how that related to
the Caucus Mountains. So that actually kind of served
the Armenians quite well, right. But there was also this
proximity to the Caucus Mountains that was also used,
especially in the earlier cases, where biological origins
were emphasized more. Yes? [ Inaudible Question ] The question is, how do I classify
polygamy as cultural or religious. I mean, I actually believe it’s
more cultural, not because — for a few reasons, I’ll explain. There is no cases where
there was actually a Muslim who was polygamist, right. So it’s not the reality of being
polygamist, it was the concept that Muslims could be polygamist, because the religion
permitted up to 4 wives. Well, this was the argument. And so I believe that it wasn’t
the practice of religion, I believe it was the
perception of religion. And that’s why I consider
it more cultural. Now, they can go back to the Koran
and say, oh, but it says this. It’s based on a religious
tenant, but there were no cases where there really was a
Muslim who was polygamist, who was turned away, right. So that’s why I sort of think it’s
the way in which Islam was viewed from the outside, rather than
experienced within the US. [ Inaudible Question ] The question was, is there
research done between the Columbus and the 1876 Philadelphia
World’s Fair Exhibition. There is some. There’s a recent book by I think
it’s Laila Latamee [assumed spelling], and I forget the title
now, on Zamora, who was a slave, who was brought as a slave from North Africa, but
a very educated man. And I haven’t read the book yet. But there’s not that much
research, I have to say. The closest the only book that
really has anything from this in it is, Adell Unisys [assumed
spelling] book, which is listed as the last reference here. And it would only be
the first chapter or 2. I would be very interested in reading something
that was on that period. Because what it does is it
emphasizes the North African, which is something that’s
missing from the literature, and the experience of slaves, which
is part of the experience of MENA’s in America, if we take it
a bit more holistically. So yeah, that would be interesting. Yes? [ Inaudible Question ] So the question is, is MENA
too broad, right, sort of. I mean, I think that race
is problematic, anyway. So I think all of them
are too broad, if you want my honest
opinion, you know. So I mean, there are plans
to have categorizations that are underneath MENA, so
especially with technology, you can add in Arab or you can
add in Armenian from Lebanon, you can add in whatever you want. And I think that that’s an
important factor in showing that there is sub-identities
after checking a box or not checking a box, right. And that’s going to be the same
for whites, so you can check white and put in Lebanese if
you wanted or Armenian. [ Inaudible Question ] The question is, is religion
included in the census, and is it included in
the immigration records. So in the immigration records,
no, it is not included. Although the immigration officers
could ask, right, they could ask. But we don’t have it written
down, we don’t know what was said. [inaudible] Well, they would
ask in the question like, where are you from and where
are your papers from, right. So the papers would be from
the Ottoman Empire, right, or they wouldn’t have papers. And actually what’s interesting,
just as British subjects had to swear that they no longer had an
allegiance to the British monarchy, the Ottoman subjects, when
they became naturalized, had to swear that they did not have
allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan. But they would just cross out
British and they would put in Ottoman, I mean, it
wasn’t a special form. So that shows that there’s probably
not enough to create a special form. But I think that that’s sort
of an interesting anecdote in terms of becoming naturalized. And in the census, there is
some tracking of religion until World War II, when it ceases. Any more questions? Great. Well, thank you very much for
listening to me, I appreciate it. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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