The U.S. Census needs an update

Meg Speaks, Design Editor

The 2020 United States Census has officially been released and with it, an issue that most citizens do not notice.

Every decade the census is sent to every person and family residing in the United States and collects the demographics of the household.  One of the questions asks for the person’s race, which in most cases is very clear. But for some, this is a confusing and annoying choice.  

People of Middle-East and Northern African countries—known as the MENA region—are classified as white on the census and many other important documents and tests. Although they are Caucasian geographically, in the United States they are not treated as “white.” 

Masa Al-Harastani, from Flint, Michigan is Syrian and has had to comply with this.  

“I have always had to fill in “white” because there was no other option that applies to me,” Al-Harastani said.  

The Census Bureau decided to not add a race category for the MENA region in 2018, as found in a memo from the Bureau in an NPR article. They did not provide a reason why.

Many believe this is unfair to MENA people, because being white in the United States automatically comes with privilege, and they do not receive it.  

“When the census has us mark ourselves as white, but we don’t get the same privileges as white people, it doesn’t feel fair and it feels like it’s erasing our identities,” Al-Haristani said. 

Religion, food and many other cultural differences are only a small reason why MENA people are not being properly recognized when considered white.  

Religion is a big reason that people from the MENA community are prejudiced against.  Because part of the religion for women could include wearing a head covering like a hijab, it makes them an easy target from people who are xenophobic. Al-Harastani said that she feels like her headscarf is one of the many reasons she is not treated as white. 

This also affects them in more ways than not being represented in the census. Because  they have to mark themselves as white on official documents, it can bar their chances for things like scholarships meant for minorities.  

In an article for the Harvard Crimson, the author Salma I. Elsayed said, “I grew frustrated as I read through the eligibility criteria of multiple scholarships that deemed me ineligible. I sent emails hoping that perhaps they would understand: I am Middle Eastern, not white.”

Students applying for scholarships or universities are not able to identify with their race or show that they are proud of their culture when they have to mark themselves as white first. 

The census includes many other regional areas as a race. For example, most Eastern Asian countries are able to pick their country of origin as their race.  Indian, Pakistani, Thai, and Cambodian are all options, but people from Syria, Iran, Egypt and Morocco are listed under the “White” category.

The U.S. Census and all official documents should be including more race options, even more than just adding MENA.  This will make data more accurate and help people feel visible by the government that has made them feel invisible for decades.  

“I definitely think the census should consider adding more categories for race. If there was an option for middle eastern, this would be more inclusive and make middle eastern people like myself feel more included in the census,” Al-Harastani said.