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Will the US Add a MENA Category to the Census?

census bureau logoThe US is home to tens of thousands of individuals with Moroccan roots, and an estimated 3.5 million Arab-Americans more broadly. Teresa Wiltz reports in USA Today on the political ramifications of a new effort by the Arab-American community to add a “MENA” (Middle East-North Africa) category to the US census. She writes:

For many Americans, checking the right box on the U.S. Census form is a reflexive gesture, whether it’s marking “black,” “white,” “Hispanic,” “Asian,” “American Indian” — or all of the above.

But for Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent, or “MENA,” it’s a real head-scratcher. They come in a variety of phenotypes and shades—ranging from pale to deepest ebony, and hail from 22 different countries, from Iran to Egypt to Sudan. And yet, for the census, since the beginning of the last century, the MENA community has been lumped into the “white” category.

Back in 1909, such a designation made a lot of sense, but today, members of the MENA community are lobbying the U.S. Census to create a separate “MENA” category for the 2020 decennial count. “White,” they argue, renders them invisible in official population counts. Without correct data, advocates say, cities and states lack adequate resources to effectively handle everything from funding educational programs to battling infant mortality to tracking employment discrimination to staffing hospitals with enough Farsi translators. Census data directly impacts how more than $400 billion in federal funding is allocated across the country.

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