When Mostafa Hefny immigrated to the U.S. in 1978, he got a rude awakening. As the customs agent welcomed him into the country, the brown-skinned Egyptian-native was told that he was now considered white.
Despite the fact that Hefny, now 61, looks like a black man, he was classified on his government-issued documents as Caucasian, a designation he’s been fighting ever since.
Due to Directive 15 of Office of Management and Budget Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, a person is defined as white if they have “origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.”
While some would relish the opportunity to be classified as white, Hefny has been actively fighting to get his legal designation changed for decades. An educator, Hefny says he’s lost multiple jobs slated for minorities because he’s listed as a white man. But his fight is deeper than that. Hefny argues that being classified as white, despite the fact that he’s a proud black man, is a slight to his heritage.
“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.”
Hefny considers himself an Egyptian Nubian, and filed a lawsuit with the government in 1997 to have himself classified as black; his case was dismissed. Now, he’s appealing to President Obama for help.
Hefny recently wrote a letter to Mr. Obama about his situation.
“As you can see in the enclosed photo, I am a black man,” the letter reads. “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 at White.”
Hefny, who started an online petition to gain support for his cause, is also appealing to the United Nations and the Justice Department to have his racial designation changed.