The Biden administration’s proposal to add a “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA) identifier to official documents like the census is the latest progress in a decades-long fight to secure representation for a historically statistically invisible community.
In a Federal Register notice published Friday, the Federal Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards recommended the addition of the identifier as a new category, making the argument that “many in the MENA community do not share the same lived experience as white people with European ancestry, do not identify as white, and are not perceived as white by others.”
"It's like we always say, 'White without the privilege,'" said Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the first advocacy groups to push for an identifier for the MENA community. "We're counted as white but we've never had the privilege that comes with it."
The current standards for race and ethnicity in the U.S. are set by the Office of Management and Budget and haven't been updated since 1997. According to the OMB, there are five categories for data on race and two for ethnicity: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian, Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; White; Hispanic or Latino; and non-Hispanic or Latino, according to the federal register notice.
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Middle Eastern and North African are included under the "white" category, meaning Americans who trace their origins to those geographical regions have to check “white” or "other" in documents like the census, medical paperwork, job applications and federal assistance forms.
This has rendered a community that experts estimate to be 7 to 8 million people invisible, underrepresented and unnoticed.
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