Boxed in: Reclassification of Arab Americans on the U.S. Census as Progress or Peril?
67 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2016 Last revised: 12 Aug 2016
Date Written: April 7, 2016
The United States Bureau of the Census has proposed a standalone “Middle Eastern or North African” (“MENA”) box for the 2020 census. Deemed white by law since 1944, the 2020 census may afford Arab Americans the unprecedented opportunity to identify as MENA, and nonwhite — the latter standing as a per se designation that conflicts with federal and local surveillance, profiling, and policing of Arab Americans during the protracted “War on Terror.”
Since the 1980s, Arab American organizations have lobbied the Census Bureau to recognize Arab Americans as a distinct demographic. These efforts proved futile, until after the September 11th terrorist attacks, when progressive steps were made toward adopting a standalone racial box. This forward momentum intersects with increased government interest in collecting precise and comprehensive demographic data about Arab Americans — a population disparately linked to terrorism.
While perceived as a moment of racial progress, the proposed 2020 Census Reform also raises many concerns. This Article investigates the converging government interest in establishing a standalone MENA box, and then, the perils associated with the proposed reform and reclassification. These prospective perils include: first, expanded government surveillance and monitoring of Arab Americans; second, the creation of a formal binary for Arab Americans, whereby voluntarily checking the MENA box signals association with national security suspicion, while checking “White” mitigates that suspicion; and third, division of the Arab American population between two per se races.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation