US Census may get MENA category after new recommendations | News about racial issues

A US government panel recommends adding a frame to the census to count people from the Middle East and North Africa region.

Washington DC – A United States government advisory committee has recommended adding a Middle East and North African (MENA) category to the US Census – a long-standing demand by Arab-American activists whose communities have been counted as white for decades.

In preliminary recommendations released Thursday, a task force of representatives from various government agencies called for adding “a response category for the Middle East and North Africa, separate and distinct from the ‘white’ category” to the census.

The survey is sent every 10 years to households across the US and is used to determine the distribution of federal government funding in health and education, among other areas.

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute (AAI), a Washington-based think tank, told Al Jazeera she was “more than thrilled” by the news, which she said paves the way for an accurate count of people from the MENA region.

“There is literally nothing that census data doesn’t affect in terms of the daily lives of Americans,” Berry said.

The task force also recommended combining the census’ race and ethnicity questions, which are currently separate. This complicated efforts to add a MENA category to the document amid questions about whether such an option would fall under the section on race or ethnicity.

The rules for collecting data on race and ethnicity have not changed since they were set in 1997.

The task force was tasked with “proposing recommendations to improve the quality and usefulness of federal data on race and ethnicity,” the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said Thursday.

The bureau added that it will seek public comment on the issue until April 12 before making final recommendations for the 2030 census next year.

Arab-American advocates have argued for years that being considered white makes their community invisible and deprives them of much-needed resources. It also makes it difficult to conduct health and social research on US residents from the MENA region.

The problem came into focus again during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was difficult to calculate the number of infected and dead from the coronavirus among Arab Americans and to adapt public health policies and recommendations for them.

“I can’t tell you the rates of Arab-Americans suffering from diabetes; I can’t give you information on how best to release information about COVID,” Berry told Al Jazeera.

“In Arab-American communities across the country, we can’t talk about language access as it relates to voting. I mean, there’s nothing.”

The US Census collects data on the country’s demographics, including population size, race, and income among other statistics. In addition to allocating government funds, it is also used to determine congressional districts.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration, which decided not to include a MENA category in the 2020 census, was widely condemned for trying to add a citizenship question to the form. Critics said this was a clear attempt to politicize the research.

“The 2020 process was reversed because of everything that happened in the bizarre politicization of the 10-year census for the first time in history,” Berry said.

“So here we are looking at 2030 and I’m incredibly hopeful with the way this recommendation is framed.”

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