Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Possible New Census Category in the US

Michael Lumish

The msn.com headline reads, "White House wants to add new racial category."
The Census Taker, Norman Rockwell, 1948
WASHINGTON — The White House is putting forward a proposal to add a new racial category for people from the Middle East and North Africa under what would be the biggest realignment of federal racial definitions in decades.

If approved, the new designation could appear on census forms in 2020 and could have far-reaching implications for racial identity, anti-discrimination laws and health research. 
And what would this new "racial category" be?

Under the proposal, the new Middle East and North African designation — or MENA, as it's called by population scholars — is broader in concept than Arab (an ethnicity) or Muslim (a religion). It would include anyone from a region of the world stretching from Morocco to Iran, and including Syrian and Coptic Christians, Israeli Jews and other religious minorities. 
This proposal is problematic, yet I think that we should unpack it for consideration. According to the article:
Adding a box on the census form could have implications beyond racial identity. According to the White House notice, the new data could be used for a wide range of political and policy purposes, including:

• Enforcing the Voting Rights Act and drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries;

• Establishing federal affirmative action plans and evaluating claims of employment discrimination in employment in the private sector;

• Monitoring discrimination in housing, mortgage lending and credit;

• Enforcing school desegregation policies; and

• Helping minority-owned small businesses get federal grants and loans.

Adding the classification also would help the government and independent scholars understand more about trends in health, employment and education. 
This data can be used in a myriad of ways for a myriad of purposes. Some of those purposes would be perfectly benevolent and even necessary. Obviously tracking "trends in health, employment and education" is data that would be entirely helpful as we analyze the health and well-being of the United States.

Of course, this information might also be used in ways that people from all across the political spectrum might find entirely objectionable. The article also suggests that:
"It just aids and facilitates the state's ability to know where these communities are in a very specific fashion," said Khalid Beydoun, a law professor at the University of Detroit. "My inclination is to think that individuals who might identify might not check the box for fear of retribution — especially if Trump wins."

But Beydoun, a naturalized citizen with Egyptian and Lebanese parents, said he still supports the proposal as an expression of Middle Eastern identity.

"In the grand scheme of things, it’s really a progressive stride forward," he said. "But in the broader landscape, it’s taking place in the context of greater animus against Arab Americans, and really, Islamophobia."
I do not know about Islamophobia, per se, but it is certainly data that can be used to help track those with Jihadi inclinations within the United States. Unless there is something inherently "racist" about wanting to protect one's citizenry from those who believe that an Eternal Garden Paradise awaits the shaheed, then there is nothing the least bit bigoted about it.

The irony, of course, is that to conflate Jihadis with regular Muslims, as Beydoun seems to, is, in fact, bigoted toward those Muslims. It would be like suggesting that targeting organized crime is the same as targeting Italian-Americans or that opposing early-mid twentieth-century National Socialism was the same as targeted race-hatred toward Germans.

To suggest that targeting Jihadis is Islamophobic is, therefore, in itself, Islamophobic. Furthermore, it hinders American law-enforcement and intelligence gathering services from preventing future Jihadi attacks. In this way it does a terrible disservice to US citizenry, encourages US governmental timidity in the face of rising Islamism, and thereby assures future Qur'anically-based butchery of regular Americans in places like San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida.

Finally, how do Jewish Americans fit into the new category in comparison with others? According to the article, Israeli Jews would fit the category, but non-Israeli Jews would not. Does that not also mean that American-born Arabs would likewise not fit the category and, if  so, does this not defeat its very purpose?

Another question is how will Middle Eastern Arabs in the United States - who hail from a part of the world with rates of anti-Semitism from the mid-70th percentile to the mid-90th percentile - feel about being lumped in with Jews?

In conclusion, I am leaning toward favoring this measure, but have only begun to chew on the possible ramifications.

It can lead to enhanced intelligence-gathering in the service of preventing further Jihadi attacks in the United States... but only if the government allows and it is highly questionable that any Democratic administration would allow any such thing. According to the latest odds out of Vegas that I have seen, Trump has about a one-in-three shot at claiming his chair in the Oval Office. This means that it is likely that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States and there is little chance that she would empower the FBI to use this data.

To do so, after all, would be Islamophobic.

Just ask the professor from Detroit.


  1. Awesome, Soros and Zukerberg can be "white", and Jeff Goldbum a MENA wog.
    Better yet let's get internal passports with everyone's religion and ethnicity specified on the fifth line.

  2. The next battleground with federal identity will be about race and gender as it applies to federal contracting set asides. Today there's very large kitty of Federal contracting set asides for businesses run by or owned by women and minorities. There is so much money in it that the #1 challenge of contract auditors is tracking who IS a bona fide and who is a paper company created by a larger non-set aside firm as a front company to move to the head of the line and/or get a higher payout.

    (there are qualifying terms in some acquisition programs that also pay MORE to set aside businesses after they've moved to the head of the line. BTW the same thing is true in specific civil service job categories that assign a point system to applicants; 10 pts for veteran status, 10 pts for handicapped, 10 pts for protected class minority and so forth. These adders are put into each civil service exam results to create a ranked list of applicants).

    But the issue is going to be who IS, black, gay, a woman and so on. We can now declare ourselves we are whatever we like. So I can create a company to bid on Federal contracts and declare myself a gay black native American trans person. Who has the authority to challenge me? If I say I am then I am. It used to be an experiment in trolling to declare myself 'African American' just to see if anyone would challenge me, which technically they can't. But now it becomes an issue of Federal statute.

    I wonder how MENA will play in that? I suspect people will rush to declare themselves MENA when the Federal government decides to create set asides from them too.

    There are two issues that have to explored with this - 1) is there in fact defacto descrimination and 2) can there be specific remedy to address it. Because I'm not sold on the medical issue. Why? Because health data is DNA data and that can be collected from anyone at any time regardless of a paper form. The love of my life of 40 years is genetically (partially) 'black' but you would never ever know that from looking at them or investigating their background. If you want to know about their sickle cell related anemia take a cheek swab. Point being that not even 'where you're from' means very much.

    And here's the important point. When the UN determined who was 'palestinian' they created this bizarre definition of a theoretical person who's male ancestor lived vaguely around the region of Mandatory 'palestine' sometime between 1945 and 1948. Because they say so? No that's going to work for me.

    1. Thank G-d neither one of us would ever want to be "Palestinian."

      Most Jewish people have far too much integrity to ever want to be a member of such a heinous group... a nationalism born directly out of the Qur'anically-based hatred for the Jewish people.

  3. How are people from Morocco to Tehran a racial category? This is an expression of what exactly? Creating new racial categories strikes me as just the sort of thing that keeps "progressives" and racists busy.

    1. Yves Mamou has an article for Gatestone that discusses this question in terms of France:

      "...census questionnaires prohibit any question about race, origin or religion. So in France, it is impossible to know how many Muslims, black people, white people, Catholics, Arabs, Jews, etc. live in the country.

      This prohibition is based on an old and once-healthy principle to avoid any discrimination in a country where "assimilation" is the rule. Assimilation, French-style, means that any foreigner who wants to live in the country has to copy the behavioral code of local population and marry a native quickly. This assimilation model worked perfectly for people of Spanish, Portuguese or Polish descent. But with Arabs and Muslims, it stopped.

      Now, however, despite all good intentions, the rule prohibiting collection of data that might lead to discrimination, has become a national security handicap."


    2. Yes, certainly place of origin and/or ethnicity, but a racial category? And, of course, are people from the Middle East entitled to Affirmative Action programs, and why? Have they suffered from some egregious historical discrimination in this country that has stopped their economic and social advancement? Have they been segregated? Should they get preferential treatment in business loans that, say, an Italian immigrant wouldn't? Black people in this country suffered through slavery and Jim Crow segregation. There is a legacy that we have been trying to correct. What does any of that have to do with recent immigrants?

    3. They are suffering from Islamophobia.
      And we could go further. Not just offering affirmative preferential treatment of oppressed minorities, but affirmative discrimination of oppressor groups. The first of such groups that comes to mind is the Jews.

  4. Well you have to be very suspect of any slice and dice the Federal government tells you is in your benefit to comply with. Why? For what? Data is very powerful in anyone's hands, good or bad. Moreover the Federal government is famous for imposing unfunded mandates on the States. To the Federal government it's a form with a checkbox and a vast bureaucracy chartered with gathering and using that data more or less to the detriment of most people. But to the states who have to comply with the results of that data gathering it's expensive and painful. Now websites have to be in Arabic, and voting forms and any other official document. Now public sector employment has to be readjusted. Now we need to change school calendars. And so on and so on.

    But the piece of that that's most deeply and egregiously missing is 'why'. What is this remedy a fix for? Who is being helped and why? Is there some de jure or de facto gap that's being addressed? Are Egyptians being discriminated and persecuted? Are country clubs not welcoming enough Lebanese Americans? And how much of this real or perceived or agendized activism regards Islam and not place of ancestry at all? Will this new law also by default embrace Indian and Indonesian Muslims? Filipino Muslims? Chinese Muslims? Mexican Muslims? Is a 4th generation German Turk a middle easterner or not? Is Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico an oppressed Syrian Lebanese Mexican or just a regular oppressed Mexican? What about Spaniards with Arabic names that go back a thousand years? Does Mali count? It's not North Africa, neither is Senegal or any of the Muslim west African nations.