Culprit by Default

I still continue to be the target of hasty judgment, imaginary offense


Culprit by Default
by varjavand

Working in a restaurant when I was a student in the early 1970s wasn’t officially authorized under my student visa, but it provided me with a badly needed income. Earning a salary by the hour was something unheard of for me since there was no payment system like that back home in Iran. Even though the minimum wage rate in those days was not all that high in nominal terms, it was a considerable amount of money for me since I use to live on a very small stipend. In addition to its monetary reward, the job had non-monetary benefits. I was able to take home the restaurant’s unsold leftover baked potatoes every night because I believe that health department regulations did not allow the potatoes to be saved. I would take them back to my dormitory where a roommate and a couple of hungry friends awaited me. Some nights, if I was really lucky, I would return to the dormitory with a half a dozen baked potatoes; when this happened, we would all enjoy a big feast.

People who lived in the small town in the U.S. where I was going to college were not shy about disclosing their feelings of mistrust toward me because I was an immigrant. Initially, given the sporadic abnormal behavior of some of the foreign students at my school, I thought that harboring feelings of mistrust was not that much out of the ordinary. However, over time I came to see that this was not acceptable. Every night after closing time, we workers had to stay in the restaurant for a couple of hours to perform the unpleasant jobs of cleaning up and taking out the garbage. One night, as we were cleaning the restaurant and getting ready for closing, there was suddenly a power outage. It became very dark everywhere. The darkness didn’t bother me at all. In fact the darkness kind of made me feel at home because when I was growing up we didn’t have much electricity, and we had to maneuver in the dark or in dim light quite a bit. But the manager, who was also the owner of the restaurant, was caught by surprise. Apparently because he couldn’t see me in the dim light of his flashlight, he was repeatedly inquiring about me by asking in a loud, probing voice, “Where is Reza? Where is Reza?” For a brief second I thought to myself that it was very nice that he was concerned about my well-being. It didn’t take long for me to come to my senses. I could tell from the tone of his voice and my quick recollection of his past treatment of me that he was not looking for me out of a sense of altruism. He was looking for me because he was perhaps thinking that I might take advantage of the chaotic situation, and run away with his money or something else from his restaurant. It was a very disheartening experience to be judged in this way when I had never given the owner cause to mistrust me.

That was not, of course, the only incident of this kind that I experienced. One time I went to a garage sale. It was the first time I had gone to a garage sale, and it was such an exhilarating experience for me because we didn’t have anything like that back home in Iran. Everything was on display so I knew the garage sale was going on but I could see nobody on the premises. After a quick look around, I left the garage and was walking toward my car – a Ford Maverick – not to be mistaken for the maverick we didn’t send to White House! I hurriedly went toward my car so that I could move on to the next garage sale. All of a sudden as I was turning the key in the ignition to start the car, a lady came out of the house walking toward my car as fast as her feet would carry her. She inspected the inside of my car visually but thoroughly; she wanted to make sure that I didn’t steal any of the junk she was trying to get rid of from her garage. When I think about incidents such as these, incidents in which I have been judged and presumed outright guilty when I did nothing to warrant such treatment, it still hurts my feelings. This kind of prejudicial treatment is unjust and degrading when directed toward a person who holds cherished values of honesty and decency. I had no choice but to endure these insults then; I saw them as the by-product of my moving from a third world country to an affluent nation. However, rationalizing discrimination in this way made it no less painful to endure.

I still continue to be the target of hasty judgment, imaginary offense, and discriminatory accusation even after all the years I have lived in this country; however, as time has passed these incidents may have become just a little more subtle. I try not to take these offensive reactions to my foreignness seriously; I often shrug them off with a humorous comment. What else can I do? When the going is tough, humor is a must! I remember an incident that took place in the health club I usually go to a few days a week; it happened in the sauna which is my favorite room in this entire huge club. It is the steam heated room you share with many other people who are all semi- naked. The presence of female club members seems to give the men an enticement to brag about something just to get the attention of the women. Because these men are unclothed, one can readily see that they don’t have much to brag about in terms of their physical attributes. Therefore, they boast about other things that anybody can brag about without fear of ridicule. They brag about the great deal they shrewdly negotiated on a new car, or how successfully they squared off with their insurance company, but most often they brag about their favorite sport and sports team. I believe some people are natural born show offs who have to brag about everything. I hate it, especially when they brag about baseball which they always seem to do. They could care less if a catastrophic disaster leveled the entire town just as long as the baseball fields remained intact. After living in this country for more than three and a half decades, I still don’t know anything about baseball, much to the chagrin of my children. Often I had to bear the humiliation of watching baseball games with them like a dummy. Without a doubt I knew they would eventually ask me a question to test my knowledge of baseball, and sure enough they did. They wanted to know who my favorite baseball player was, as if I knew the names of all the players. I wanted to be seen as someone who was in the loop so I told them Shaquille O’Neal was my favorite baseball player; I had heard that famous athlete’s name somewhere and crossed my fingers. Of course, I had to endure my embarrassment when I could tell from my children’s sly laughter that I had made a wrong guess.

Now back to the key point of my health club experience of discrimination. I was in the sauna with a bunch of such overweening guys when suddenly someone entered the room, looked at me kind of angrily and asked, “Are you done with that?” The object he was referring to was a piece of weightlifting equipment that someone had brought into the sauna before I had entered; of course, it didn’t belong in the sauna room. I really had no clue about what led him to believe that I was the guilty party; I could only guess that he accused me simply because I was the only one in the room who didn’t look quite like the others. This kind of mentality, that you are presumed guilty if you don’t look like everyone else, has become even more intense after the disastrous events of 9/11. The day after terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, a colleague of mine asked me sarcastically “What are you going to do now?” The person seemed to be implying that now that I had successfully completed the attacks of the day before, I was now in the process of mapping my next destructive strategy. It was perhaps his chronic distrust and bigoted attitude toward me as a member of a “lesser culture” that were being manifested in that question. It still surprises me when I encounter such judgmental attitudes and the ignorance beneath them in so-called intelligent people. It also continues to surprise me when these attitudes are expressed by people who have lived their whole lives in a country which proudly identifies itself as a “melting pot” of diverse people, avows that “all men are created equal,” and espouses that a person is supposed to be judged by the “the content of their character” alone. I thought, and still think that individuals like my colleague are creatures of a lop-sided mass media that consistently and convincingly promotes wrong attitudes and unfounded ideas which are based in ignorance and cultural elitism.

I believe this kind of elitist mentality has led to the attitude in this country that “we are the best and the heck with all the rest.” Fixation on such a self-indulgent mentality and limited world perspective means that we are not open to the possibility that others may also have good ideas. I wholeheartedly think that we as a nation have suffered enough collectively from this kind of mentality, especially economically in this age of global interconnectedness. It particularly has made us ignorant of the gradual rise to power of other countries and has blinded us to the idea that others matter. Many of us are not eager to open ourselves to the ideas expressed by others; unless “the other” is just like us, we have no desire to accept him or her with open hearts and open minds. For example, it took an “energy crisis” to force auto makers in this country to finally realize that the best fuel-efficient cars are not made in the U.S., and the consumer’s love affair with inefficient, gas-guzzling American cars and trucks would soon be coming to an end because of soaring gas prices. This arrogance, greed, “isolationism,” and lack of foresight has led to the economic failure of the once invincible American car industry, not to mention the resulting increase in the government deficit because of financial bailouts/loans to these companies, and the loss of jobs for American workers.

Maybe the best way to describe such an attitude is to invoke the famous phrase “American exceptionalism” that has been used eccentrically by neoconservatives to theorize that the U.S. has a particular doctrinal superiority over other advanced nations when it comes to social, political, and economic systems. Such a generalized fixation on ourselves and our attitude of superiority precludes us from learning from the experiences of other nations, many of which are more successful than the U.S. particularly with respect to important areas such as education, healthcare, and social justice. Only sheer arrogance and a misguided understanding of what it means to be a world “leader” could explain why we as a country would not want to learn from the successes and failures of other nations in order to advance our national goals. Success in a global economy requires that we think outside of the box of fascination with ourselves. We can learn a lot even from a “dummy” as a current popular TV ad would suggest. Ideas from others may not create Nirvana, but they have the potential, if we open our minds, to stimulate creative problem-solving, and pave the way for alternative views of how we can accomplish many important goals in a variety of areas. In order for this to happen we must be willing and able to let go of our notions of superiority, and re-identify ourselves as one positively contributing nation among many in a global world community.

I will end with a story that is partially fictional, but is intended to humorously invite you into the world of a Muslim immigrant in this country. I particularly like the story for its entertainment value which takes the edge off of painful feelings of being discriminated against. I use to live in a community where my close neighbors not only thought I was a dummy, but they also held suspicions that I was a member of a sleeper terrorist cell. One day, when I was leisurely enjoying barbequing in my backyard, much to my surprise I found myself confronted by a couple of local police officers. They proceeded to inform me that my neighbors reported to them that they suspected I was enriching uranium in my backyard and that I might be trying to construct nuclear bombs! They perhaps reported to the police that I came from Iran and, of course, that’s what Iranians are suspected of doing these days. After I somewhat recovered from my stunned incredulity, it took me some time to verbally explain that I was not a terrorist, and to demonstrate to the police officers that I was in fact making shish kabobs. Granted I created a little smoke, but barbeque smoke never killed any one as far as I knew. Also, I had to plead with them not to confiscate my newly purchased Weber gas grill because they thought it was a mobile nuclear lab! This story may seem a little far fetched but it exemplifies the rush to judgment and the preconceived bigoted notions that people who fear diversity inflict on others who are different in native origin, skin color, culture, and religion. Just as the U.S. as a country must economically and politically change its view of itself to reflect that it is a member of a community of nations, so too must individual U.S. citizens change their exclusionary views of other U.S. citizens who reflect that very same community of nations.


Recently by varjavandCommentsDate
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khaleh mosheh

Khosrow Khan

by khaleh mosheh on

LOL..I was a bit slow on the uptake.


Khaleh joon

by Khosrow (not verified) on

dast be delam nazar...

Ari Siletz

Khaleh Mosheh

by Ari Siletz on


khaleh mosheh

Difficult Iranian names

by khaleh mosheh on

My cousin who recently visited me from Iran is called Farkhundeh.Well she did not like the way the Immigration officer pronounced her name when he checked out her passport. I had to explain that it was a liguistic issue rather than anything personal.



by Anonymous.... (not verified) on

That's because hollywood has been doing it's job well. And don't believe their rehtoric about being anti establishment. Washington and Hollywood have mastered their roles for playing good cop bad cop.


And yet the United States continues to be

by BK (not verified) on

the biggest single magnet for immigrants. Strange world, eh?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I (especially as someone who has never lived in the USA) enjoyed reading them.


Dear Mr. Khazar

by varjavand on

Dear Mr. Khazar;

I have already addressed some of the points you have raised in your comment in my own comment right beneath yours. As you see in that comment, those are sporadic personal experiences and in no way blanket generalization. In my opinion, stories like those,  although dramatized, or even far-fetched, have a purpose;  to make sense of a disconcerting phenomenon and to generate further discussion. I may have succeeded in achieving both.

Also I didn’t understand what you mean by Mazokhist, can you be more specific




Behnam,Please do not tell me there is no discrimination here!

by e roo knee 1 (not verified) on

I feel what Varjavand is trying to say.You say there no discrimination here,but you either do not notice it or you are trying to ignore it.With black hair and an accent and having a Muslim and middle eastern name ,you are going to put under microscope.I try to judge people individually and try not to generalize,but you so called white people are respectful to others and they may not say anything negative about you when you are present,but you leave their circle and they start talking about you.I know black people do not discriminate against us,but I have noticed that if you see you white people not talk to you it is because they do not like you.Discrimination in not only amongst working class people,it is among well to do immigrants from Iran or middle east too.With all these said I rather stay here that live in Iran.


Nice essay!

by Anonymous.... (not verified) on

I don't agree with the association of this problem with sports in general. I've played organized sports here in the US for most of my teens and 20's, and I can tell you that sports offer the common goal to unites atheletes in a way that neutralize and easily overcome racist behaviors. (Super crazy sports fans are often the wanna be's)

But I do relate to you and find your experiences are accurate and very perceptive. I've lived in the U.S. since I was a young boy and by immigrant standards you can say I've done well. But I find there are two america's that people must content with here in the United States. One that "portrarys", and one that "is" and the only way you can expolit it is by challenging thoese that are sitting at the top of the food chain.

Both America's are leashed by the elite which subject all citizens including 2nd or 3rd generation americans. The average american populis is actually super nice and foregiving, but they either think it's rude to question their authority, don't know how to question their authority, or are worried of it's political consequenses that may echo through their communities social pecking order.

I also find racism common amoung the elite who ironically blow horn their rehtoric about equality and justic, yet when it comes to their own personal gains, they become the biggest hipos of all and can easily justify and turn the other cheeck in the midst of their klan's cirminal behavior.

Eventhough I feel super american when I'm in Iran, like you if I had known about this side of America, (or was old enough and experienced enough to understand and recognize it) before moving, I would have never came to the U.S. I also think the mullah bashing (persian male bashing through association) in our society plays a strategic role which ironically exploits persian women as they become consumed with celebrating and excercizing their sexuality or home-coming as "the modern woman."

There are also other subtle indicators like why you can't send money from here to Iran through our banking system, yet it's not as difficult to wire money back into a US account.

But now that we are here, Smart Ambition and Smart Achievement is the only solution, but don't forget: "Kareh beejah malleh khareh...."


to live in US by LA rules

by shirazie (not verified) on

1. Never make eye contact. if you do , be as cold as possible.

2. the other people are just from a herd of 300 million and they are not worthy of your company

3. Move away from predominantly white areas.

4. At work only make friends with Indians, Jews and Europeans

5. slowly surround yourself with other immigrants ( you will be amazed how cultured and fascinating other nationalities are)

6. Get only white friends who grew up in the west or south Bay area

7. I have been using these words for over 30 years and it works. "I am from Iran and a Muslim - Does that scare you? Good"

8. what do you have to worry about - we are from the axises of evil and live in the great Satan country.. so start acting like the devil

Behnam Khazar

Dear Mr. Varjavand

by Behnam Khazar on

I did not get the point of your long arguement; and I am really sorry about your experience and being felt discriminated about.  I am living and working in this great country for over 30 years and I always been treated with respect specially from the more traditional american.  I have so many positivie experience with both black and white american.  I don't want to generalize at all but I have been discrimiated against more often by first generation chinese, korean, indian and filippino rather than by white or black american.  During the years at college and work, some of my most supportive and mentoring bosses and supervisors were white or black and some of the nastiest and meanest and most racist ones were asians and indians.

At the end, may be when you add all the positives and subtract all the negatives, you still feel ahead and that could be the reason you decided to stay in this land unless if you are a mazokhist(sp).


Daer All

by varjavand on

Dear All,

Thanks for your comments. I am really humbled by your support and encouraged by your kind remarks. It is indeed through such comments that we realize how many decent, open-minded, individuals participate in this wonderful public forum and make positive contributions to our understanding of complicated issues like the one we are discussing now.

My argument in this piece of writing, of course, is based on scant personal experiences that are not, in any ways, representative of the collective perception of this great nation that we are part of. Obviously, we can find biased individuals in any society and no one takes them seriously. However, things become serious when the attitudes they symbolize are perpetuated by mission-driven mass media, exploited by Hollywood, or God forbidden sanctioned by government. I do think that when such unfavorable things happen because of uncontrollable factors, you need to learn how to make the best of them which is, as one suggested, to educate others and show them our good sides, shrugging them off would also help emotionally.

Regrettably, often, we are judged especially by lay people, through the unrepresentative behavior of extremists and wrong doers. Our rich culture is not fully appreciated because it is not duly publicized and the voice of moderates is not very loud. We are badly misunderstood in the West, so is our culture which is, I believe, overshadowed, among other things, by our religion, so negatively portrayed in the West by the media. It is only through good education and qualification as one of our friends reminded us that we can be in charge, prove ourselves to others and tell them that we are not what they think we are. These sporadic incidences happens during our life eventually, but I have no doubt that  things have started to change and will continue to change to our betterment in 21st century which has been given credit for its focus on human rights and social justice .

I don’t think any of us are, and should be besieged by such adversarial rare attitudes of some individuals. We can use our means to contest them in forum like this. A good thing about them is that there are mainly verbal, even though they still disheartening, but imagine how agonizing they would have been if they turned into violence No one denies the facts the substantial majority of people in the US are wonderful, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here, and thanks God most of us couldn’t succeed  if it wasn’t for the openness and embracing mood of this society. We are not angry for something that happens out of our control but would like to contemplate the channels through which we can respond to and alleviate them. I should apologize for using “I” may be too many times, I hope it is not construed as an indication of self-centeredness.  

Thanks again, Varjavand




by Electric Samavar (not verified) on

My Fellow "Iranian-Americans": I, more than my fare share, have faced the old-fashion type and the newly developed types of local prejudicial behavior derived from 9/11 and racial profiling by the government agencies and officials during my 30+ year "tenure" in the U.S. However, I am not nearly as bitter due to the fact that I try to be logical than emotional. It is the nature of the human specie, as part of genetic code of survival, to be suspicious of "unknown element", let alone if we carry scars in our subconscious mind. We Iranians have the strongest prejudicial convictions than any other nation, against Arabs, Afghanis, Turks, ..... Therefore, who are we to condemn Americans, in its general terms, for reacting the same way. I hate the fact that I cannot consider myself as one of the guys after 9/11 any more. I hate the fact that after living in the US for 33 years, my supervisor calls me into a meeting and tells me about the "American Cultural Values" vs. those of the "old country" which I left at age 15. I hate the fact that after managing $1.5 million budget for 8 years, my supervisor tells me that I have to prove myself to the two white hourly newbie’s before I can reprimand them for their short-comings, but I am still not bitter about it, not even close to what you have expressed in your long "article". Yes, there are abusive and insulting behavior, but then again, it is only normal, as ignorance is the prevailing mentality amongst all general population of the world. Don't get me wrong, I don't put up with ignorance, but I never get angry and try to explain it calmly to the person who commits it that how fundamentally wrong his/her behavior is. I am not a crusader, but I sure am a good teacher and a better debater. If I can enlighten only one out of 10, I consider this 10% achievement a huge success, but at the same time, I am constantly watching my own racist behavior or thought processes, criticizing myself, and trying to better myself by doing what I preach. I strongly believe in the domino affect that my enlightening efforts has on the society. To make the transition from being an ignorant Iranian, I forced myself to open my mind and be receptive of other cultures and value systems, so that I can stop being the non-smiling, gut wrenching middle-eastern business owner, baseball hater, non-socializing gym member,….. I have taught myself to be part of both worlds. I have just as much beef with Iranian culture as I do with American short-comings and as you can see this is a good attest to my effort to help you fellow Iranian-Americans to work with both sides of isle. The reluctance and animosities which we feel is not any different (although far less severe) than those of Republicans against Democrats (and vice versa), Catholics vs. Protestants, Arabs vs. Jews, Armenians vs. Turks, Vietnamese vs. Chinese, Japanese vs. Koreans, Iranians vs. Arabs, ....... and the list goes on and on and on.

You owe it to yourself to teach yourself the American history as it is far more enticing, intelligent, and contributing to the humanity than our 2000-yr old so-called "glorious" history of genocide, betrayals, devastation, and wars. At the same time I understand while the U.S. did heroic sacrifices to single-handedly rid the modern man from the tyranny of Hitler and Nazi Germany, has also committed the most heinous crimes against humanity and atrocious criminal acts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq,....

Bottom-line, let's call spade, spade, as being honest and objective is the most powerful weapon that we can arm ourselves with to combat naivety, ignorance, and intentional right wing propaganda imposed on masses by the slave masters of all types; from Cheney to Bin Laden.

Maryam Hojjat

Mr. Varjavand

by Maryam Hojjat on

I relate to your experiences. I also enjoyed your blog as usual. You are excellent writer.

Payandeh IRAN & Iran's LOVERS


Americans are the most wonderful people

by mirzakhan (not verified) on

I have to say, as an Iranian Immigrant who has lived in several European countries as well as Iran, Ameicans are the most wonderful, immigrant friendly people ever. People like you and I would have no chance of significant success anywhere in Europe. (Few succeed, but only few). As an Iranian, I find myself to be Very Racist. The people in Iran are very Racist (to put down, Turk or Lors or Indians etc). As a professional, a Doctor, living in the Bay Area, It amazes me every day that they come to me with their ills, the confide in me, and they trust my brown-colored skin, accented English when they could go next door and see a (inferior and less capable) white docotor ..
If I were in Iran and was going to see an Indian docotor, I would hesitate ...

Americans are wonderful; Racism, regionalism,Religionism, etc exits eveywhere, but much less so here. I feel lucky to live here and fortunate to be an American...


Them Iranian Terrorists!

by Farrokh (not verified) on

"lop-sided mass media that consistently and convincingly promotes wrong attitudes and unfounded ideas which are based in ignorance and cultural elitism"

Yes. I couldn't agree more.

Here's another example. The Rush Hour 3 movie was shown on the screen in 2007, it then went DVD, and now it is being played on cable and satellite...

The conspiracy theory nut in me says that there has been a massive and deliberate negative campaign going on against us. Check it out:


Good thing we have people like Dr.Abbas Milani writing books like the "Eminent Persians."

I recently interviewed him about that book on behalf of Iranian dot com. As soon as I finish editing the audio I'll send it over to JJ.



Dear Mr Varjavand

by IRANdokht on

From what I have heard already and reading your very well-written piece and the gentlemen's comments here, I am now convinced that these types of "profiling" and negative encounters are more common in regards to the middle eastern men than the women precisely women who do not wear traditional clothes and head cover. 

I must say that I very rarely feel discriminated against, well except for the awkward reactions I sometimes receive because of my name and surname that are both very difficult for non-iranians to read and spell.




So why are we here?

by Kurush (not verified) on

Well-writtern & honest! Keep up the good work. The truth is that the US has NEVER been a white-only country even though the presumption to the contrary has been otherwise. The multiplicity of indgenous native races & their unique languages & cultures were truely staggering. Yet they are no more. The African suffered horribly and were excluded until very recently. Even the Irish & Jews & Itlaians were unwelcome in many NE states. Germans were demonized for the first half of the 20th century, and even today Holywood portrays them as villains still. Ronald Takaki (Iron Cages,, A Differnt Mirror,) has extensivly written about America's darkside. Now Islam & a quarter of the Earth's population are being demonized! What is astonishing is the resilency of America's inherent racim in resurfacing under a different guise. What we wintessed in the photos of AbuGhraib would have been familiar to the slaves kept in slave pens awaiting a prospective buyer in Charlston or New Orleans. Yesteryear black children were bombed by the KKK in the basement of a church in some southern town, today, the uniformed American pilots target indiscriminately the Afghans and their children. The KKK smock has been replaced by the 'dignified' military unifom. The intent is all the same. It is a deranged and twisted mind of some dimwit Anglo-Saxon at work. Let's say the truth bluntly, there is virtue in that. But why are we here? Well, because our ruler was a US stooge & it is a ponzi scheme: you will find out sooner or later, but always too late. I know that if I knew what I know now, learnt the hard way, I would not be living in America. Greetings.



by capt_ayhab on

I completely relate to you and your stories. Although I personally do  not resemble the typical Iranian man, but having gone to school and worked minimum paying jobs during that period , I have had more or less same experiences. Specially in the southern and Midwestern US.

Sadly enough as you said, after 9/11 this [Profiling] has increased to great degree and it has taken more serious form. Such as our names being picked by airlines for [bodily cavity search](jk). Even though now the gray hair and distinguished looks help a bit, but the name is giveaway. ;-)

Enjoyed your article.


Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Thank you for these interesting personal anecdotes. I relate to many of them. Over the years I have learned that misunderstood body and face language are the simple causes of many cultural suspicions. For instance, In Iran we tend not to look people in the eye as a sign of respect and a way of giving him/her privacy. In the US this is a sign that a person has something to hide.  As another example, our shopkeepers keep a serious face to reflect professionalism; in the US this is seen as being unwelcoming. In gyms we tend to mind our own business; Americans like to make encouraging comments on each other's improvements. The list is long. As for sports, if you don't know a game just ask about it. Few things please Americans more than introducing and explaining one of their games to a foreigner. you'll make friends for life.

Ali P.

Tough Call

by Ali P. on

It is tough to tell, at least in my case, they are checking me due to my nationality, religion, political belief, accent, good looks (!), or any other factor.


The bastards check my receipt every time I am leaving a Best Buy store. I wonder if they know who I am!