Whiteness and Armenians

SHERMAN OAKS, CALIF. – The Arpa Institute will host a lecture-seminar by law professor John Tehranian on Thursday, December 11, at 7:30 p.m. The presentation, titled “Whitewashed: ‘Whiteness’ in American History, with a Special Focus on Middle-Easterners,” will take place at the Merdinian Auditorium (13330 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks, Calif. 91423).

In providing background to Tehranian’s lecture, the Arpa Institute explained that, throughout American history, racial classifications have wielded exceptional influence. For example, until 1952, federal law provided naturalization rights only to individuals who were white or black, but nothing “in between.”

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a wave of new immigrants from non-Anglo-Saxon countries arrived on American shores. As a result, the American legal system confronted the task of defining what or who constituted the white race for the purposes of naturalization.

“Litigation over the concept of whiteness resulted, yielding life-altering consequences,” the lecture’s abstract states. “While the trials often grew senseless, with judges delving into the depths of antiquity, reconstructing history, and spouting rigid ideologies in order to justify their rulings, the reification of whiteness had a profound impact on shaping the immigrant experience in the United States.”

Prof. Tehranian writes that Armenians played a central role in these cases, and that the Armenian struggle for naturalization rights and “white” recognition is critical to understanding the processes at play in the social construction of race.

By drawing on these cases, Prof. Tehranian’s talk will assess the historical and contemporary relevance of whiteness in American society, with a particular eye toward the war on terrorism and the debate over immigration, assimilation, and national identity, especially after September 11, 2001. Specifically, Prof. Tehranian will discuss ongoing and peculiar problems of race and how they affect Armenian and Middle-Eastern Americans. He will also address “the unusual catch-22 facing Middle-Eastern Americans: although considered white by law, and therefore ineligible for any policies benefiting minorities, they have faced rising degrees of discrimination over time – a fact highlighted by recent targeted immigration policies, racial profiling, a war on terrorism with a decided racialist bent, and growing rates of job discrimination and hate crime.”

John Tehranian is a professor of law and director of the Entertainment Law Program at Chapman University School of Law. He has previously served as professor of law at the University of Utah, S. J. Quinney College of Law, and as visiting professor of law at Loyola Law School. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, he is the author of numerous works on race, civil rights, and constitutional law.

A frequent commentator on legal issues for the broadcast and print media, Prof. Tehranian has appeared on such television programs as ABC’s Nightline and has been quoted as an expert on legal issues in such publications as The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporterand Christian Science Monitor. He has also served as an expert witness in numerous intellectual-property and civil-rights-infringement suits and is an experienced entertainment and intellectual-property litigator, having represented prominent Hollywood, publishing, new-media, and technology clients at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Turner Green Afrasiabi & Arledge LLP.

Prof. Tehranian’s scholarship focuses on the interface between law and culture, with a particular focus on issues of intellectual property, entertainment, and race. He is the author of the bookWhitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority (New York University Press, 2008), an analysis of the social and legal construction of race and the malleable concept of whiteness through history, and the forthcoming book “Infringement Nation” (2010), an examination of copyright pervasiveness and reform in the digital age.

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