Sunday, January 23, 2011

What kind of a 'White' person are you?

With increasing pressure from the Arab community to better identify Arabs on the Census form, the US Census Bureau contracted JBS International to conduct focus groups across the US to gain a better understanding of how individuals fill out the race and ethnicity question on the Census form, why they choose the category(ies) they do, and how those questions might be amended to more accurately capture how individuals define their racial and ethnic identities.

Five of the focus groups will include specifically Americans of Middle Eastern and North African ancestry, including those with ancestors from Morocco to Iraq, with an additional focus group dedicated to those Americans with Iranian or Persian ancestry.  I participated in the first focus group, which was held yesterday in Los Angeles. The other focus groups will be held in Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago, and Detroit. 

Overall, the participants were mostly in support of adding an "Arab" category. If the participants in the four other focus groups are as vocal as the Los Angeles group, I'll be optimistic about adding that Arab box. That is, if the Census Bureau seriously considers these opinions.  

One thing I didn't quite understand. Why were two of the participants Israeli? If this is a general "Middle Eastern/North African" focus group, how come Iranians/Persian weren't included in it? Iranians/Persians will, rightly, have their own focus groups. There's no good explanation for Israelis participating in the "Middle Eastern/N. African" focus group, which was really about the identity of Arabs. It's not like Israelis even care to participate in this. It's a none issue for them. Either include all Middle Eastreners in this, or keep it an "Arab" issue.

Regardless, the real issue here is the race question. Under current classification, if an Arab checks the "other" box and writes in "Arab", he/she would still be counted as White, although the information will not be lost. (and if you're a black Egyptian and write in Egyptian, then you're automatically White, unless you check the "African-American, black, or negro" box)! 

We were presented with two new options, and recommend how to improve them:
  1. Same exact 2010 questionnaire, with the addition of (for example; German, Irish, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, and so on) next to "White". That was a bizarre option that would make things worse for Arabs, since it would encourage Arabs to check White, and pretend that the problem is solved. 
  2. Currently, Hispanics are classified as White, but have an entire question on their ancestry. Under this option, The Hispanic question is eliminated. Hispanic is added as a "race/origin", and a 'blank' under "White" is added to identify what kind of a White person are you, with the addition of (for example; German, Irish, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, and so on) next to "White"!... This option is also unacceptable.  It still counts Arabs as White and the outcome doesn't translate into the benefits that other minorities receive. 
The focus group participants made it clear to Census Bureau: WE WANT OUR OWN DISTINCT BOX!
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