Notions of Aryan Iranianness Must Be Rejected

To the Editor:

We are a collective of Iranian-descended feminist scholars who engage in antiracist 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 that have identified Iranian-American Jason Reza Jorjani, who received his Ph.D. 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 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. 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.

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.

Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki
Occidental College

M. Shadee Malaklou
Beloit College

Nasrin Rahimieh
University of California, Irvine

Parisa Vaziri
University of California, Irvine

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