US Census Bureau explores new Middle East/North Africa ethnic category

Organizations representing people of Middle Eastern and North African descent are asking the Census Bureau to add a new ethnic category on forms. People of this heritage are now categorized as “white,” a decades-old practice advocacy groups say is inaccurate.

The new category would be broader than the Arab ancestry data collected by the Census Bureau since 1980. The Arab-American population is small but growing, and its exact size is disputed.

The Census Bureau estimates there are 1.8 million Arab-Americans in the U.S., up 51% since 2000. But the Arab American Institute Foundation estimates there are nearly 3.7 million Arab Americans living in the country. The Arab-American population is also diverse, with people claiming ties to 22 countries and various religious backgrounds.

“When immigrants come here they’re very confused by American race classifications,” said Helen Hatab Samhan, former executive director of the Arab American Institute Foundation. “They don’t necessarily relate to them, and they don’t know where they fit.”

A coalition of groups and individuals—including the Arab American Institute Foundation—sent a letter to the Census Bureau last summer that asked for a separate “Middle East/North Africa” ethnic category.

Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American* comedian, isn't laughing about being classified as white on census forms.

People of Middle Eastern and North African descent have historically identified themselves as white on census forms. But during the 2010 census, activists launched a campaign that urged people to check “some other race” on the form and write in their ancestry. The campaign’s slogan was: “Check it right; you ain’t white!”

Census data are vital to determining everything from how congressional districts are drawn to $400 billion in federal aid programs and enforcement of civil rights laws...

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*Iranians do not want to classified as white either according the “Check it right; you ain’t white” link. He looks pretty pale to me. Anything excuse to get a chance at the goodies of affirmative actions and race preferences.

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