Opinion: MENA Community Forced to Conform as “White” on Yet Another U.S. Census
With the 2020 Census soon approaching, understanding the make-up of our nation’s population is as important as ever. However, the seemingly simple demographics survey has deprived the Middle Eastern and North African-American (MENA) community of basic rights and services for years.
For decades, MENA-Americans have legally been considered “white,” as they have been labeled as so by the United States Government, and more specifically, the U.S. Census. Tracing back as early as the 19th century, the root of this label may have begun when Christian MENA-Americans immigrated to the United States and identified themselves as Caucasian in order to avoid racism and restrictive immigration policies.
Originally proposed during the Obama Administration, the 2020 Census was in fact supposed to mprevail a category for people of Middle Eastern and North African Roots. However, this was overturned by the Trump Administration as they claimed more data was required, especially following Trump’s travel bans issued against MENA countries such as Iran, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
According to an article published by NPR, Maya Berry, the executive director of the Arab American Institute, called this a “severe blow” to the MENA community, stating “our communities, like all others, rely on representation through legislative redistricting, civil rights laws, and education and health statistics. A continued undercount will cause harm.”
Additionally, some even argue that the fact that some members of the MENA population may have certain “white-passing” features works in favor of them being labeled as white. Regardless, to this day, choosing the “White” checkbox does not mean that MENA-Americans receive the same privilege as white people do. They have been and still are seen as different, and they still face discrimination.
No person of color should have to force themselves to be labeled as white, especially in the case of a demographic survey. What purpose does the Census serve if it does not even present correct and accurate options to choose from?
Recently, U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib accused Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham of “erasing” people of Middle Eastern descent during a House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee meeting. “Do I look white to you?” She asked him. Tlaib herself being a Palestinian American understands the struggles that the community endures. Meanwhile, she represents a district in Michigan, which is one of the most MENA populated states in America. While this is only a first step, a voice like this could be the push that the MENA community needs in order to truly be seen and heard.
-by Nora Selim ’20
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those solely of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Bennett as a whole.