This article examines the racialization of Iran and Iranians by excavating the treatment of Iran in the naturalization cases from the early twentieth century. In so doing, the article highlights both the continuities and disjunctures of a racialization process that began long before there were identifiable populations of Iranians in the country or the United States had developed a coherent foreign policy vis-á-vis “the Middle East.” Iranians and Iranian Americans find themselves in a precarious position in contemporary race discourse. On the one hand, Iranians are formally categorized as white by the state. Likely as a result of this categorization, few scholars have taken up the question of how Iranians are raced, particularly in the context of law and public policy. On the other hand, if and when the community is discussed in academic or popular literature on race, it is thrown into the emergent, amorphous category of “Arab and Muslim.” While it is true that the racialization of Iranians, Arabs, and Muslims is an overlapping process that similarly affects all three communities, an analysis of the law reveals that the racialization of Iranians has a distinct lineage in American foreign and domestic policy, such that in the same moment that the state rendered Arab Americans white for purposes of naturalization, Iranians were deployed as the primary colored referent from which Arabs should be distinguished. I call this process “peripheral racialization.” This article attempts to prompt questions about the role of American foreign policy interests in race-ing Iranians in the United States. The example of Iran is particularly salient in the contemporary context, for it has much to tell us about the operation of white supremacy in America’s efforts to develop and maintain a modern empire in “the Middle East.”

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