Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent, sometimes abbreviated as “MENA,” have a problem: they are white. In today’s world, that is a bad thing, as Pew explains:
[F]or 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. …
“This is a bread and butter issue,” said Sarab Al-Jijakli, a Brooklyn-based community organizer and the president of the Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP). “Education is obviously a key point; 25 percent of public school kids in Bay Ridge [Brooklyn] may be of Arab descent. Are the services being given in that school really serving the local community? These are the questions we ask.”
What’s more, some argue, being classified as “white” prohibits the MENA community from taking advantage of the benefits that come with minority status—including local, state and federal programs that give a leg up to minority-owned businesses in awarding government contracts.
This brings a whole new meaning to “white flight”!
Officially, the business of counting populations is a federal matter. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) tells the Census Bureau what the racial and ethnic classifications are. Currently, OMB breaks down the population into five racial categories—black, white, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native and one ethnic category, Hispanic (Hispanics, like the MENA population, can be of any race).
Someone please remind me why it is necessary for the federal government to divide Americans into racial and ethnic categories. I keep forgetting.
Today, “white” as defined by the federal government, is “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as ‘White’ or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.”
But while it made sense for the MENA community to fight for a “white” designation a century ago, it is less advantageous now.
Haven’t they heard about “white privilege”?
Of course, not everyone is race-obsessed:
“Then there are people who don’t want to rock the boat, who are like, ‘I’m fine; I consider myself American,’” he said.
That attitude is unacceptable. It risks depriving one’s fellow MENAs of the cash benefits that come from being non-white. When Benjamins are at stake, it is no time to be noble.
Pew gives a Lebanese-American activist the last word:
“’White’ is a made-up category, ‘black’ is a made-up category. Categories shift over time,” Khater said. “[Race] is part of this American reality and it’s how people are negotiating their ethnic identities. Those who are Arab and Iranian American are starting to construct this community called MENA that is as real or as false as everything else in this country.”
In other words, they are in it for the money. One thing about MENA: the Middle East includes Jews and Iranians, two of the highest-income ethnic groups in the U.S. Does that matter? Perhaps not. Victimhood isn’t what it used to be. Why shouldn’t the most prosperous among us get their slice of government preferment? I am still waiting for us Norwegian-Americans to get a little special consideration.
If all of this makes you nauseous, imagine what a setback it would be for race hustlers everywhere if OMB decreed that we are all
white American. Or, if that is too much to hope for, maybe the courts could start taking the Fourteenth Amendment seriously. (“And this time, we really mean it!”) The federal government divides by race, only because it is determined to discriminate on the basis of race.