An Annotated List

Ethnicities, Nationalities and/or Socially Constructed Identities That I’ve Been Mistaken For

Put on a kufi and grow a beard and it becomes harder and harder to take advantage of institutionalized white privilege.

Middle Eastern

  • I’m sure all the converts have gotten that one before.


  • The late Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani (q) emerged from a doorway. Huge smile on his face, he gave me a heavy pat on the chest, spoke to me in Turkish, and laughed out loud. He, of course, knew English and this was in Chicago.

Arab: unspecified

Arab: Syrian

  • On the flip side, a Syrian I ran into at a gas station looked at me and said, “you’re Ukranian, aren’t you?” My mother’s side of the family is in fact from Ukraine. He explained that he had met a number of soviet engineers who were in Syria offering technical assistance, the Baathist government being soviet-aligned in those days, and I looked just like them. Huh.

Arab: Lebanese

  • When I lived in Dearborn, home to tens of thousands of Lebanese, I had to memorize the Arabic for, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Arabic”, to which a lady once cocked her head at me and said, “Eh? Why not?”




  • When Malays guess this, I can understand. I was more surprised when I went into a store last week and asked the Pakistani uncle “Adakah jual songkok disitok?” (Do you sell malay hats here? …in Malay.) He cocked his head to the side as if to wonder why I would speak Malay to him and answered gently, “Nai, beta.” (No, my child.…in Urdu.)



  • The boiled sheepskin hat I was wearing at the time contributed enormously, I’m sure.


  • Back when I was barely aware of where Malaysia was, and had not yet sprouted facial hair. In fact it was about 12 hours after I had taken shahada.


  • I was working this temp job and had been there several weeks when a few of the Black guys I worked with started telling this white girl that I was Black. I don’t know what they could possibly have presented as evidence besides the fact that Islam is the Black Man’s Religion ™ but they had her fooled.

In Malaysia, the response I’ve gotten most often when I clarify that I’m actually an American is,

Aren’t you kind of short for an American?

To which I reply:

“I’m an Asian export model.”