The recent recommendations released by the US Census stems from new government research on the best ways to count the nation’s demographic groups. The objective of the recommendations is to keep pace with rapidly changing notions of race by making broad changes to these surveys that would treat “Hispanic” as a distinct category regardless of race. It will also end use of the term “Negro” and offer new ways for Middle Easterners to identify themselves.
These proposals could face stiff resistance from some racial and ethnic groups who worry that any kind of wording change in the high-stakes government count could yield a lower tally for them. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, quoted by the AP stated that “As new immigrant groups came to this country decade after decade, how we measure ethnicity changed to reflect the changing composition of the country,” Groves said. “Since that change is never ending and America gets more and more diverse, how we understand and tabulate the information has to be continually open to change.”
A video promoting participation in 2010 census:
As Arab-Americans, we have long argued for the need to implement these changes. We have long argued that current racial options available on the Census form produce a severe undercount of Arab Americans.
The current Census form is only a ten question form, but the implications for our community are far-reaching, the most important of which is that we do not exist as a distinct ethnic group; we are part of “Some Other Race!
The Arab American community — is estimated at about 1.2 million, based on the 2000 Census, but no official count has been released from the 2010 Census, but the Arab American Institute estimates the number is closer to 4 million.
Ironically, those of Arab and Middle Eastern descent fought to be legally and officially designated as “White”, which was formalized by the Census in 1970. However, in the context of recent demographic, political, and cultural changes, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans now are more inclined to identify as a separate racial or ethnic group, one that better reflects the uniqueness of their heritage.
Of course, the usual criticism from more “traditional” Americans is that such an effort to create a new racial category will only divide our country further and would make it harder to unite everyone under a universal “American” identity. The problem with that argument is that first, based on our country’s history and still embedded in most of our social institutions, a universal “American” identity has usually meant being White. Therefore, in denying Arab and Middle Eastern Americans their own identity amounts to another misguided “colorblind” approach that ignores the historical legacies and contemporary realities of American racial history.
The second problem with this colorblind argument is that it flies in the face of real and significant demographic changes taking place all around us, and the political and cultural shifts that result from such changes. As I’ve consistently written about, being “American” in the 21st century is more than just a sense of patriotic loyalty. That’s part of it, but it also includes making real contributions to America’s political, economic, and cultural future in the face of globalization, financial crises, and the changing political landscape around the world.
With that in mind, just like Asian and Hispanic Americans, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans are poised to use their transnational cultural ties to bridge the gaps that currently divide the U.S. from other religions and countries. If the U.S. is to retain its “superpower” status and level of influence around the world, trying to impose American ideals and models of government or economy will not work any longer and in fact, will only hasten our country’s decline.
Indeed, as the Obama administration has recognized, we need to embrace these global trends and build more mutually-respectful connections, relationships, and networks with countries and religions around the world, particular in Asia and the Middle East. Although it’s too late to be officially implemented in the 2010 census, one step in that process is to support the efforts of Arabs to create their own racial category that reflects their unique history, experiences, and resources that they can contribute in helping us forge a new American identity here in the U.S. and around the world.
Arab Americans views on participation are not uniform. The most vocal and well-organized pro participation organization is AAI, the Washington-based American Arab Institute. AAI’s position is to encourage the community to choose the “Some Other Race” category and write in one’s ethnic identity or national origin. By so doing, AAI argues, we will demonstrate our concern about the limits of current racial categories and strengthen our argument as we push for modifications in the 2020 Census. Critics, such as Ray Hanania oppose participation until the Arab race is singularly listed on the form.
Yet the others who once were passionate about the Census including ‘Arab’ ethnicity, but now are reluctant. “Given the present stance on terrorism, the war to eliminate a president of an Arab nation and the uneducated fear of the Muslim religion, this is not a time for us to have an Arab American category on any government form,” Samia El-Badry, a noted demographer , says. “Arab Americans fear being rounded up. While [a box for “Arab”] was pursued for many years under the stance of fairness and accuracy of data collection, right now is not the time to pursue it. By definition, the race question has white, and hence that is where we fit in.”
While I would like to see our ethnicity marked on the Census, I did fill out the ‘short’ Census form where I checked ‘other’ under the race category. Now that the Census Bureau is suggesting a remake of the form, I look forward to the next Census, in 2020. Of course, only after Congress approves these changes that it will become law to include our “Arab” ethnicity is included.