White, or Not Quite? Predicting Arab American Responses to Racial Categorization Forms


  • Nader H. Hakim
  • Nyla R. Branscombe


We examined the implications of the institutional racial/ethnic designation of Arab Americans as White. Do Arab Americans prefer this categorization or another, and what factors predict categorization in one way or another? In Study 1, a representative sample of Arab Americans in Southeast Michigan (N = 1,001 57% female, ages 18 to 88, Age M = 43.64) completed measures of perceived discrimination, various forms of social identification, and self-categorized from Census-designated racial categories. Self-categorization as “Other” was significantly predicted by experiences of discrimination, Muslim religious affiliation, and having darker skin. In Study 2, with a convenience sample of Arab American college students (52% female, Age M = 20.25), participants were randomly assigned to self-categorize as either “White” or as “Middle Eastern/North African” and then completed measures of perceived discrimination and various forms of social identification. Assigned self-categorization as “Middle Eastern/North African” significantly predicted subgroup respect towards Arabs, but only among those who strongly identified as American. Far from being a neutral, merely reflective method of categorization, the Census and similar categorization forms are sites of racial/ethnic socialization. Respondents bring to such forms their social psychological experience. For many Arab Americans, a host of social experiences indicate the (in)appropriateness and meaning of being forced to self-categorize as White or being allowed to self-categorize differently.