What it Means to be Brown: The Racial Lives of Egyptians in the United States
Zopf, Bradley J
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In What it Means to be Brown, I investigated the racialized lives of Egyptians in the United States. I explore the meanings they construct, the experiences they share, and the strategies they use to negotiate race in their everyday lives. This qualitative study based primarily on 53 in-depth interviews with Egyptians and Egyptian Americans examines three aspects of race—racialization processes, hierarchical ordering in the racialized social system, and self-classification practices. The narratives presented throughout speak to the homogenization, yet differentiation, of brown-skin ethnoracial groups—those groups racialized through a combination of skin color, ethnicity, national origin, and/or religion. First, I demonstrate brown racialization to be a layered process in which skin color is but a single axis of exclusion. Instead, I argue that ethnic background, national origin, and religion distinguish Arab and Middle Eastern Americans as potential enemies of the United States. Second, I examine where Arab and Middle Easterners belong in the U.S. racial order. Egyptian narratives reveal the existence of an alternative space between, overlapping, and yet outside the boundaries of white and black that I call brown racial space. This interstitial space is characterized by its ambiguity and blurry boundaries. I find Egyptians construct contradictory racial positionalities replete with both colorblind and color-conscious discourse. Finally, I explore how Egyptians answer the race question by analyzing responses to both a closed-form sample U.S. census and open-form biographical questionnaire. Together these responses shed light on how and why Egyptians self-report as either white or as other, rationalize such choices, and express a sense of ambivalence about a separate Middle Eastern or Arab category. What it Means to be Brown concludes by bringing the racialized lives of Arab and Middle Easterners in line with mainstream scholarship of race, especially the burgeoning literature on the multiple dimensions of race. I show that brown racialization represents the complexity, flexibility, and ambiguity of race.
SubjectRace Racialization Brown Arab Middle Eastern Muslim Racial Formation Egpyt Egpytian Racism Racial Middle