No, you're Iranian

Facebook culture wars


No, you're Iranian
by Roozbeh Shirazi

There are more people from Persia than Iran on Facebook. Yup. This won't make too much sense if you aren't on Facebook, but oh well. In a sentence, is a hugely popular social networking site among high school, college, and grad students. Back to the numerical superiority of "Persians" on this site. How did I find this out? Randomly, and by no scientific process. So, I like to bounce around the different pages on Facebook from time to time, sometimes looking for someone or something specific, sometimes, just for fun. Sometimes I like to do different searches to see who or what comes up, such as a search for "Iranian" (over 500 results) or "Roozbeh" (122 results). Somehow, through random browsing and link-following, I came across a page on which there is a Facebook race to see which ethnic groups are most represented on Facebook.

Apparently, there are more people who claim to come from "Persia" rather than "Iran." Persia comes in at 40th on the list and Iran comes in at 57th--again, it’s a totally unscientific tally, but there is something important to be gleaned from this nonetheless. As in, there is a significant number of Iranian youth outside of Iran pledging national cultural allegiance to a non-existent national entity in lieu of Iran . Iranian parents have really failed cultural preservation training, namely, the part about explaining to their kids what country they come from. What Kool-Aid are they drinking?

Seriously, I wonder what is going on--all this 'I am Persian' talk makes me feel really estranged from other Iranians in the US, and I feel embarrassed for them that they are so embarrassed to own up and represent Iran. Why have a large number of Iranian youth chosen to represent themselves by excluding or at least minimizing any association with Iran as it actually exists? Why instead do they opt for a process in which Iran becomes an adulterated, Mr. Potatohead-like heritage concept in which you build it yourself to suit your social needs?

Not that constructing identity is wrong or abnormal. We all construct our identities, and to some extent have them constructed for us. Since I am not writing a paper, there is no need to go into lengthy philosophical discussions on authors who have written about identity but I partially draw on their ideas in making this claim. I think this process of identity negotiation is acute in immigrant communities, particularly for the children of immigrants growing up in their "new" homes (even if they were born there and lived there all their lives as I have in the US). It is a matter of figuring out how best to portray yourself while balancing competing cultural and ideological commitments amid coercive social forces.

Here is my two cents on this phenomenon: Many young people of Iranian origin in the US construct 'Persian' as an alter-ego to being 'Iranian' because Iran has been reconstructed as something unattractive, backward, alien, and terrifyingly Muslim by their families, other Iranians in their social networks, and not least by American media and foreign policy ever since the Revolution. It is a defense mechanism against the (perceived) enormous social cost that comes with identifying as Iranian. I am fully open to the prospect that maybe it's not an "either-or" proposition, and some use the terms interchangeably-but looking at some of these group names, there seem to be a significant number of people that have crystallized Persian vs. Iranian into a dichotomous cultural struggle.

I am guessing that due to their negative views of the Iranian government, most Iranian immigrants in this country have somewhat bought into that distorted assessment of Iran in general--which has been popularized by three decades of negative portrayals in American news, films, newspapers, and political commentary and policies. As a result, many Iranian immigrants in the US have restructured their national identity accordingly. Perhaps they felt a need to project an identity image palatable to their hosts (and peers) on cultural, social, political, and sexual levels (and thus to themselves)that still retains the benign and seemingly admirable characteristics of their origin, such as their love of their food, music, beauty, art, ancient history, etc. I would call this the American side of the "Lipstick Jihad" coin.

Consciously or not, I think for many people being Persian is more attractive because it is the "Other" to all of the shame that being Iranian brings with it. Being Persian has provided an idealized ethnic perfection to self-conscious Iranian youth in the US that open affiliation with Iran has been unable to provide since 1979--and remains unlikely to provide to this population in the near future. Yet I find the fantasy world of being a benign, sexy, apolitical-yet-pure Persian that the youth have created to live out this identity in fascinating and simultaneously depressing. Whatever social benefits being "Persian" provides, I still see it as a partial cultural and individual capitulation to the powerful and distorted narrative of being "Iranian" that is disseminated by others.

I am including a relatively short list of some of the groups and member profile pseudonyms on Facebook that come up when you search "Persian" on Facebook, just to add some real life texture to my philosophizing (no actual names, number of members in groups, or images have been used to respect people's privacy). Obviously, the selected names here represent an edited and abridged list and no, they don't represent all of the clubs, groups, or profiles with the word "Persian." Many "Persian" organizations have positive missions, such as creating virtual professional associations or are based on inside jokes and populated by small cliques of friends.

The point I am trying to make is the pervasiveness of the use of the term "Persian", not to make any moral/value judgment about who does or says what on cyberspace. Hey, I was in high school/undergrad once too, and I feel sorry for these kids nowadays because it is harder to keep your personal stuff private given the enormous amount of personal information that is available on the internet. People have a right to figure out who they are, right? I pasted all these titles as you see them, so please don't get upset with me if you are offended by the poor taste or bad grammar of the following titles.

Results from a Facebook search for "Persian"

1. Persianwolf A
2. Persian Angel
3. Sexc Persian Babe
4. Persian Bella
5. Persian Bellezza
6. Persian Bird
7. Persian Boy (5)
8. Persian Cat (2)
9. Persian Chick
10. Persian Chika
11. Persian DarkEyes
12. Persian Deity
13. Persian Doll
14. Persian Eyez
15. Persian Gigolo
16. Persian Girl
17. Persian Guy
18. Persian Hunny
19. Persian Kitty (2)
20. Persian Jews at CU
21. actually, i'm PERSIAN..not white!
22. After seeing 300, i wished i was a zoroastrian achaemenid persian
23. A Persian created Algebra
24. Are Persian or Armenian Women Hotter?
25. 10,000 Aryan Persian Immortals
26. Beautiful Persian People's Club
27. Be honest, would you get with a Persian?
28. bitch persian(not xerxes)
29. Bow down before my big proud Persian nose
30. 300- Dont Fuck with Persian. cuz we'll kick your ass
31. Everybody Hates a Hairy Persian Girl
32. Everybody LOVES a Persian Girl!
33. Everybody LOVES a Persian Boy!
34. Everyone Loves a Half Black Half Persian (Iranian) person!
35. Facebooks Hottest Persian Girls
36. i ♥being persian!!!
37. Persian Women are the Most Seductively Hot Females in the World
38. Ridiculously Good Looking Persians
39. FOBS of AMRICA-persian pride
40. George Bush hates Persian people!
41. Human Histroy in Persian History
44. I Have A Crazy Persian Friend
45. i have Persian Parents who like to whoop my ass
46. I'm persian, NOT ARAB!
47. Iranians = Persian
48, Mohammed Mossadegh.....A True Persian Leader
50. Only real men are persian
51. Persian By Chance...Proud By Choice
52. Persian Clubbers (baro bax-aye party animale irooni)
53. Persian Empire Lives in my Blood
54. Persian Girls ~ Beyond Beautiful
55. Persian Heartbreakers
57. Persian Perversion - Once You Go Persian, There Is No Reversion.
58. Persian Podiatrists
60. Persian Pride
62. The Persian Empire is coming back (only pure persians only)
63. We want our "PERSIAN EMPIRE" back...
64. You know you're Persian when...

65. I am proud to be Iranian (not Persian)

And the list goes on and on and on.