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Racial Exclusion and Assimilation Across Boundaries

Panel XI-22, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Dr. Meriam Belli -- Chair
  • Mr. Gregory Aftandilian -- Presenter
  • Mr. Mojtaba Ebrahimian -- Presenter
  • Shyla Dogan -- Presenter
  • Dr. Yiorgo Topalidis -- Presenter
  • Oula Hajjar -- Presenter
  • This work examines the ways in which anti-Blackness manifests in U.S. Islamic institutions. During this ethnographic project, 22 participants who identified as part of the Islamic community in one city in the southwestern portion of the United States were interviewed; semistructured interviews and snowball sampling were used to obtain data. The findings in this paper are based on 22 attendees of two mosques and one private Islamic school whose interviews brought up the topic of colorism and discrimination as part of their experiences in the community. Research participants were parents of children in the Islamic school or weekend school program, former students, and former or current leaders in the community. Findings demonstrate that anti-blackness in Islamic community spaces often manifests through the targeting of Black children for perceived misbehavior in educational spaces and through practices of exclusion toward Black community members in social spaces.
  • Dr. Yiorgo Topalidis
    Donald Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 politically united moderate conservatives and White supremacists (Schrock et al., 2022). His defeat in 2020 led a significantly sized contingency from these groups to an insurrection on January 6, 2021. The scenes on the ground from that day reflected White supremacist ideology through rhetoric, symbolism, and violence. This study explores the social construction and historical underpinnings of White supremacy that inspired the events of January 6. Moreover, the study argues that Whiteness is a separate and distinct identity from White supremacist Whiteness and provides the theoretical pathway for decoupling Whiteness from White supremacist Whiteness. To explore how and why individuals increase their proximity to White supremacist Whiteness’s socioeconomic benefits and privileges, I propose the Whitening Process Model (WPM) (Topalidis, 2022). The WMP describes a series of White Supremacist Discourses (WSDs) which White supremacists use to create boundaries around White supremacist Whiteness. They deploy WSDs during episodes of intersectional racial contestation and confrontation to disparage Black, Indigenous, Latinos, Asians, immigrants, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and low-income Whites (Topalidis, 2022). These episodes result in psychological tension experienced by the targeted groups, which I identify as racial dislocation (Topalidis, 2022). I argue that racial dislocation has acute and chronic facets and that the result of chronic racial dislocation is White amnesia (Mills, 2007). Finally, I argue that White amnesia results in the descendants’ increased proximity to White supremacist Whiteness. I test the model by applying its tenets to Ottoman Greek migrants who arrived in the US during the early 20th century. This study concludes by arguing that the knowledge of a European migrant group’s whitening process by their descendants serves as a conduit for their engagement with intersectional, anti-racist praxis.
  • Oula Hajjar
    This paper focuses on the integration of Syrian refugees into the Canadian labour market in light of their pre-migratory socio-economic conditions. Most of the Syrians who recently arrived in Canada did not migrate for professional reasons. Many of them had successful careers in Syria yet they were mainly seeking safety for themselves and their families when they sought resettlement. Despite their migration not being intended for economic reasons, they had to start a new professional life. The paper analyzes whether Syrian newcomers were able to find jobs easily and whether these jobs were related to their professional fields prior to migration. Using longitudinal survey data with 1924 resettled refugees from the Syria.lth project, this paper analyzes how social class and pre-migration professional skills had an impact on the integration to the Canadian job market and their satisfaction level. While some consider that their job is enough to make their end meet, the data shows that many are not satisfied with their current job. Also, most of them had jobs that are not related to their professional fields prior to migration. When analyzing it by age, the older ones had more difficulties to integrate the job market.
  • Mr. Mojtaba Ebrahimian
    The talk is an exploration of how early-nineteenth-century Iranian travelers interpreted European "progress" and its constituent requirements for a given society. It demonstrates that for the early-nineteenth-century Iranian traveler-observers, certain sociopolitical developments in Europe had resulted in advances in technology, education, and military for European monarchs. Without promoting a dichotomy between a "superior" European civilization and an "inferior" Iranian or Islamic civilization, these Iranians tried to understand how some of the European advances could also be achieved in Iran and the Islamic lands. They called these advances “taraqqi” (progress) and presented this progress within an Islamic and Iranian interpretative framework to promote the feasibility of adopting certain social, political, and technological developments of Europe in Iran and the Islamic lands as well. In this way, the paper challenges assumptions that Middle Eastern or Iranian intellectuals believed in an inherent lack or inferiority between their own civilization and that of Europe, and moreover, it examines the intellectual legacy of early-nineteenth-century Iranian travel writers, a topic that has not been attended to adequately by the current scholarship.
  • Mr. Gregory Aftandilian
    Recreating Kharpert in Massachusetts There is a special connection between Armenian-Americans of Massachusetts and the Ottoman province of Mamuret ul-Aziz which the Armenians called Kharpert, situated around the present-day city of Elazig. Armenian Kharpetsis began arriving in Massachusetts, particularly in the Worcester area, beginning in the mid-19th Century, though the bulk of the immigration resulted from the Hamidian massacres of the Armenians (1894-1896) and later the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The survivors of these horrific calamities faced the fact that there were no homes or homeland to go back to. To ease such dislocations, the survivors settled in Armenian communities in America where their fellow provincial compatriots had already laid down roots. Social life among this generation was largely confined to people from their own province. They played the music, danced to the songs, and prepared the foods that were distinctive to that area. Notably, in the summers, they would hold “Kharpertsi” picnics at a farm outside of the cities that a fellow Kharpertsi owned, where they attempted to recreate their village life and relax after what was often grueling factory work during the week. The American-born children of these immigrants grew up with multiple identities--they were Armenians and Americans, Kharpertsis, and descendants of a people from a particular village in Kharpert province. This paper aims to show how provincial identities from the former Ottoman Empire were so strong and durable for at least two generations in America, despite assimilation trends. Although other immigrant groups like Italians also maintained provincial identities, the thesis of this paper is that the Armenian case of retaining a provincial identity was even stronger than other ethnic groups. Having lost everything in their homeland—family members, homes, farms and businesses—they did their best to recreate Kharpert in Massachusetts as a coping mechanism for the trauma they endured in addition to helping them adjust to a strange new land and society. My paper will be based on population data, records of compatriotic unions, and interviews that I have conducted with the offspring of the early immigrant generation as well as secondary sources on the Armenian immigration experience. I will also incorporate in my paper family histories, as my own maternal grandparents were from Kharpert and settled in Massachusetts. The paper will hopefully make a contribution not only to immigrant studies but to the endurance of provincial cultural identities of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire.