The msn.com headline reads, "White House wants to add new racial category."
And what would this new "racial category" be?
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.
The Census Taker, Norman Rockwell, 1948
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.
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: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.
• 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.
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."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.
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."
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.