An Open Letter to Iranian/American Academics and Scholars in the United States

We, the undersigned, are a collective of Iranian-descended feminist scholars who engage in anti-racist work in our pedagogy, research, and scholarship. We believe that it is our duty to confront the racism of Southwest Asian and North Afrikan or SWANA peoples, especially within the Iranian/American community. Recent and ongoing publicity highlighting Iranian/Americans’ connections to white supremacy and whiteness, both inside and beyond the Alt-Right movement prompt us to raise our voices at this moment. We call upon all Iranian/American academics in the diaspora and in the SWANA region to join us in dismantling white supremacy by rejecting mythologized notions of Aryan Iranianness. We also call on Iranian/Americans more generally to stand stronger in their vigilance against racism, specifically, antiblackness in their communities.

We especially write in response to news reports (here and here) that have identified Iranian-American Jason Reza Jorjani, who received his PhD in philosophy from Stony Brook University, as one of the co-founders of the white nationalist website altright.com and a member of its Board of Directors. It is clear to us that Jorjani uses his training in higher education to promote a controversial cultural and historical platform that connects Iranianness with Aryanness. Unfortunately, Jorjani’s position has a long-standing grip in our communities. This belief is animated by claims made by 19th century philologists about linguistic affiliations between Persian and European languages, as well as the narratives of the Avesta and the Gathas, which describe Aryans as a group of ethnically distinct people settling in the Iranian plateau. We understand that the discourse of Aryanism results from carefully crafted imperialist projects that dehumanize and invalidate the nuances of the diversity of what we call Iranian culture and heritage. We firmly believe that this is evidence of the practical Occidentalisms we use to turn the white supremacist colonial gaze back onto ourselves, reproducing its violences.

We are deeply concerned about this trend, which Jorjani exemplifies but which is irreducible to Jorjani or the Alt-Right. We object to strategies for quelling the feelings of isolation, dejection, and alienation Iranian/Americans experience by reproducing racist views. Rather than condone such problematic narratives through silence, we urge our kinfolk to speak out in opposition to the Aryan mythology that would have us believe (as Jorjani does) that we have more in common with Richard Spencer et al. than with those people he condemns. To be sure, there is nothing new about the white supremacy of this moment. We urge fellow Iranian/American academics to contemplate and speak out against the legacies of settler colonialism, imperialism, and chattel slavery that predate and propel the white supremacy that has taken hold of the United States in this moment and those of us, like Jorjani, who are trying to find our place in it.

At the same time as we oppose identifications with Aryan ideology that would position us as bedfellows with Richard Spencer et al., we recognize that Iranian/Americans occupy passing-white privileges that they too rarely acknowledge. We oppose flattening out our experiences with the racism other minorities, especially racially black peoples have always experienced, and we adamantly reject Iranians’/Americans’ participation in anti-black racism.

We aim to recognize that while Iranian/Americans have much more work to do to make themselves allies and co-conspirators with other people of color, especially to black people — in their home countries and in the diaspora — we also recognize that most Iranian/Americans know that their lived experiences do not align with the European descended counterparts Spencer et al. claim as their ancestors, and that constructions of race and uses of racism fuel the brutal power structures and institutions that serve to exploit people of color, Iranians included. Despite some economic and educational privileges among a limited number of Iranian/Americans, we witness and often experience the brutality and violences of white supremacy and whiteness.

We believe that those of us with access to institutions of higher education and other forms of privilege that come from access to education have a duty to directly confront expressions and beliefs in, and collusion with, white supremacy. This will require actively engaging with how we inadvertently or purposefully promote or passively reproduce white supremacy through our professional networks, research aims, and pedagogy in the classroom as well as our affiliations with scholarship that erases or elides direct engagement with racialized power dynamics. In Iranian/American communities more generally, the work of dismantling white supremacy requires rethinking our investments in Aryan mythology, to be sure, but also and especially our investments in white supremacy’s subtler markers — like respectability politics and the other performative strategies we use to signal cosmopolitanism, sophistication, and modernity.

We ask our Iranian/American kinfolk to do the difficult work of holding themselves accountable to their investments in racial scripts that oppress Iranians and other peoples of color and to adamantly support the efforts of all those who actively engage in dismantling white supremacy.

In solidarity with anti-racists everywhere,

Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki (Occidental College)

M. Shadee Malaklou (Beloit College)

Nasrin Rahimieh (University of California, Irvine)

Parisa Vaziri (University of California, Irvine)