Detroit immigrant fights to be classified as black

DETROIT - A 61-year-old Detroit immigrant has fought for over 30 years to be officially recognized as a black man...

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DETROIT – A 61-year-old Detroit immigrant has fought for over 30 years to be officially recognized as a black man. Mostafa Hefny has been trying to get his racial designation changed since he arrived in the United States from Egypt in 1978, and has even reached out to President Barack Obama for assistance.

On the surface, it would seem obvious that Hefny is indeed black. He is brown-skinned with curly hair, yet the U.S. government considers him to be white.

“As a black man and as an African, I am proud of this heritage,” Hefny told the Detroit News. “My classification as a white man takes away my black pride, my black heritage and my strong black identity.”

Hefny was born in Egypt and immigrated to the U.S. in 1978. When he entered the country, he says that he was classified on government papers as a white person – “The government (interviewer) said, ‘You are now white,’” he said.

There is merit to Hefny’s claims. According to Directive 15 for the Federal Office of Management and Budget Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, a “white” person is defined as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.”

Hefny told the News that he is a Nubian from the northern part of Sudan and the southern portion of Egypt. Nubians are ancient group of Egyptians considered to be more African than Arab.

Hefny says that he has been persecuted and denied promotions because of his insistence that he is black. He claims that he lost out on a teaching position at Wayne State University in the early 1990s because the position was designed for a minority. He says that he did not qualify because he is classified as white.

“I have been awarded, inadvertently, the negative effects of being black such as racial profiling, stereotypes and disenfranchisement due to my Negroid features,” Hefny said. “However, the legal demand of my racial classification of ‘white’ prevents me from receiving benefits established for black people.”

In all, Hefny, who is currently unemployed and gets help from his family, says that he’s lost five jobs because of his battle to be classified as a black man. He filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in 1997 to be classified as a black man, but that case was dismissed.

Hefny has reached out to the Justice Department and the United Nations to try to change his racial status. In June he wrote President Obama seeking help.

“I need your help,” Hefny’s letter said. “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 and you were not, yet you are classified as Black and I am classified as White.”

There is also an online petition trumpeting Hefny’s racial battle. The Association of Black Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Nubian Advocates – an organization that he co-founded – posted the petition and has collected 30 signatures as of Monday.

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith