Monday, October 3, 2022

Does MENA mean white or non-White?

Racial identity groupings are social, scientific, and legal categories... and they do not always line up. Government classifications for decades have considered people of Middle Eastern and North African to be "white." The exception has been in case law such as the 1923 racial prerequisite case Thind v. US, in which the Supreme Court found that a South Asian Indian person who would be scientifically classified Caucation to be non-White because he would not be seen that way to the "common man." Consequently, the court reasoned that Mr. Thind was not eligible to be naturalized, in keeping with decisions barring Japanese and other non-White immigrants from being able to naturalize.

While the motivations differ, that reasoning from lived experience echoes what advocacy groups have been saying. Post-9/11, they feel that those with MENA ethnicity are not treated as if they are white when it comes to housing, employment and other forms of discrimination. Moreover, surveys show that the younger generation does not see themselves as white.

Congress is starting to question the classification and have raised the possibility that the U.S. census should include a separate box for MENA in 2030. The Obama administration had researched whether and how to make the policy change. The effort halted during the Trump administration, but it is reviving under the Biden administration. The current chief statistician, Karin Orvis, said the government was looking at how it collects race and ethnicity data and would revise its standards by summer 2024.

For more ongoing coverage, see a New York Times newsletter and recently published a survey on this subject.


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