The Day I Learned I Was White

It came as a complete surprise to learn that I was white. I've been a dark-skinned person all my life. I'm Lebanese on my father's side and Italian on my mother's. In the summer, I get darker than Barack Obama.

I've always received positive comments about my skin color. "Nice tan," people would say. A few white friends—sensitive progressive types—thought that it was rude to say such a thing to a person with dark skin, especially if the person saying it was white. It never bothered me. I knew they were paying me a compliment, because I'd watched white people I grew up with spend countless hours and hard-earned dollars trying to look like me: tanning booths, spray tans and long days lying on the beach trying to approximate what God had freely assigned to me. I was neither white nor black. I was something in between.

Some white people had problems with my skin color and ethnic heritage. I was raised in a New Jersey town of 20,000 and was the only person with an Arabic last name. I was heckled and sometimes taunted. Luckily for me, my parents didn't intervene. They refused to organize the world around my sensibilities. There were no calls to the principal's office. They taught me to handle things myself and to ignore ignorance. To take such claims seriously, they explained, would only give power to the offender. Moreover, I might lose sight of all the good white people who didn't care that I had an Arabic last name or brown skin.

The fact is that the vast majority of white people I've met in my life were exceedingly good and decent. Many were rooting for me because I was different.

I've given about as much thought to my skin color as to my eye color. I focused instead on the things I could control. Things that mattered to me and my parents. My grades. My conduct. And my future, which would be determined by my choices. The people I surrounded myself with. And my attitude.

Personal responsibility and agency were a big deal to my Italian and Lebanese family. It was taught without ever being taught—it was that fundamental.

The Seattle Space Needle and downtown skyline with Mount Rainier in the background. Seattle's Race and Social Justice Initiative seeks to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity in the city. Getty Images for Rock'n'Roll Marathon/Donald Miralle

With that as a background, it was quite stunning—and amusing—to discover recently that I was no longer considered a person of color by diversity trainers in Seattle. I was, they declared, "white."

The training was part of Seattle's Race and Social Justice Initiative, and the course was titled Interrupting Internalized Racial Superiority and Whiteness. According to City Journal's Christopher Rufo, the sessions were designed to reinterpret traditional American values, informing white participants that "objectivity," "individualism" and "comfort" are "vestiges of internalized racial oppression."

The trainers explained that white people have a deep sense of racial superiority, which has made them unable to access their "humanity" and caused "harm and violence" to people of color. The session ended with instructions for white people to challenge white friends for their participation in "our white supremacist culture" and to encourage white employees to work on "undoing your own whiteness," Rufo concluded.

How humiliating, I thought to myself. Why would white people submit to such rubbish for a minute? To such utterly racist stereotypes of themselves?

I would have had some questions for those trainers if I'd been in those sessions, especially about the ease with which I was excommunicated from the Black, Indigenous and People of Color Club (known commonly as BIPOC to the diversity and inclusion crowd) and demoted to the White People Club.

Was it because Lebanese and Italian families like mine committed the heresy of adopting the values of our new home country that we are now considered "white"? Or because we overcame prejudice and bigotry without bitterness or acrimony?

Was it because we worked hard, embraced capitalism and thrived? Or because we assimilated, intermarried and put love of country—and love of our common humanity—above our tribes and above ideology? After all, where else is it commonplace for the children of Italian and Lebanese immigrants to marry and have kids. And to have one of their sons—me—marry a woman who's part Irish, French and Viking? That's right, Viking!

Our 15-year-old daughter is a walking United Nations. The pluribus in e pluribus unum. The way we live, love and make families in America is beautiful. It's why ethnic minorities have been coming here for so long—and will keep coming.

We've escaped death camps in Germany and Poland, Communist regimes in Cuba and China, brutal dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East, deprivation in Latin America, and extreme hardship in Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia and India.

We dark-skinned immigrants didn't come here to change America; we came to have America change us. And we didn't cross oceans and deserts because we believed America was a white supremacist nation. It's preposterous, this idea being peddled by mostly white progressives in Seattle and by campus ideologues across the country.

We Lebanese and Italian Americans fared well in America. Many dark-skinned ethnic minorities have fared well too. The numbers don't lie. According to the Census Bureau, Asian Americans had the highest median household income in 2019: $98,174. That's over $22,000 higher than the average white American family, which had $76,057. And Indian Americans far outpaced every ethnic group in America—white, black and brown—topping out at $135,453. The last time I looked, Indian Americans had dark skin.

Included in the top 50 ethnic groups by household income in 2018 are Taiwanese (No. 2), Filipino (No. 5), Chinese (No. 7), Singaporean (No. 9), Pakistani (No. 16), Iranian (No. 22), Lebanese (No. 25), Italian (No. 32) and Greek Americans (No. 35).

Compare those results with our white-skinned ethnic counterparts like the English (No. 12), Irish (No. 20), Swiss (No. 30), Polish (No. 36) Swedish (No. 38), German (No. 53) and French Americans (No. 62). We dark-skinned ethnic groups are not merely holding our own; we're punching above our weight.

Among religious groups, Jewish Americans are the most financially successful, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, with 44 percent of households earning $100,000 or more. No group has faced more discrimination in human history: Two-thirds of European Jews were killed during Hitler's reign of terror, and anti-Semitism was—and still is—a real problem. Remarkably, American Jews make up nearly 50 percent of Jews worldwide. There's a reason so many Jews live here—and white supremacy isn't one of them.

Most confounding to the progressive narrative is the story of Nigerian Americans. "Today, 29 percent of Nigerian Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree, compared to 11 percent of the overall U.S. population," Molly Fusco wrote on back in 2018. "A growing number of Nigerian Americans are entrepreneurs and CEOs, building tech companies in the U.S. to help people back home."

Fusco wasn't finished with her reporting. "Racism hasn't stopped Nigerian Americans from creating jobs, treating patients, teaching students and contributing to local communities in their new home, all while confidently emerging as one of the country's most successful immigrant communities, with a median household income of $62,351, compared to $57,617 nationally, as of 2015," Fusco wrote.

The story of America is a complicated one. There's been real prejudice and hatred in our past, and it's created disparities in opportunity and outcomes. Racism still persists in America despite great gains. And we have problems to solve on the opportunity front for the working poor and Americans—black, white and brown—trapped in ZIP codes with failing public schools and high rates of fatherlessness.

But calling dark-skinned people who succeed in America "white" won't change the truth about this country. And ignoring stories of successful ethnic and black immigrants won't either.

Our success stories defy the progressive narrative that people of color—ethnic minorities from around the world—face insurmountable obstacles to success because of pervasive white racism. And the even more hateful narrative that America is a white supremacist nation. And that all white people are racists, whether they know it or not.

These are not merely lies, what the progressives are peddling: They're part of a dangerous doctrine—cultural Marxism—designed to tear apart the social fabric of the country. And the idea of the American dream itself. An idea that's made this country a magnet for ethnic immigrants across continents and centuries.

It's why my grandparents came here—the very real promise of the American dream. And why millions more like them will continue to come here despite the false pleadings of a mostly white-progressive Marxist minority hell-bent on radically transforming our nation.