When Mostafa Hefney moved to America from Egypt back in 1978, he was eager to begin his new life as an American. But then something a U.S. government interviewer told him threw him for a loop:
“The government (interviewer) said, ‘You are now white,’” Hefney, who is now 61 and living in Detroit, told his local CBS station. Though he’d lived his entire life in Africa with dark skin and dark hair, when he finally came to the states, a bureaucrat decided to mark Hefney down as a white person on his official forms. And for the past 34 years, he’s been fighting for his right to become a Black man.
In 1997, Hefney filed a suit to be labeled Black, but the case was dismissed. In June of this year, Hefney wrote to President Obama, “I need your help. As you can see in the enclosed photo, I am a Black man. My complexion is darker than yours. I was born and raised in Africa (Egypt) and you were not, yet you are classified as Black and I am classified as White.” Obama has not yet come to Hefney’s aid.
While it may seem like a silly problem to many — or a beneficial one in a place as racist as America — Hefney says being classified as white instead of Black hurts him deeply.
“As a Black man and as an African, I am proud of this heritage," he told the Detroit News. "My classification as a white man takes away my Black pride, my Black heritage and my strong Black identity."
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Hefney, you have to admit that his case puts into stark relief the problems America has with grouping races and ethnicities. If a brown-skinned man from Africa can get classified as white, shouldn’t that mean that our entire classification system is out of whack and in need of repair? It’s an especially important question when you consider how deeply connected people are to their racial identities.
That being said, perhaps it’s time for Hefney to stop letting what a piece of paper says control his life. If he feels Black and is Black, the government can’t ever take that away from him, no matter how many times it calls him white.
These opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Detroit News, Max Ortiz)