Arab-Americans need a box on the US Census Form!
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Why Barack Isn’t Getting My Census Form
Amer Zahr
by Amer Zahr
April 11th, 2010 (1 Comment)
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On the 2010 Census form, as on almost every other form that asks one to identify his race, there is no box for “Arab-American.” Now, we all know race doesn’t really mean race in any biological or anthropological sense. If it did, there would only be 3 boxes: White, Yellow, and Black. Then, Latinos would be white, but we all know they’re not. In America, when one is asked to define his race, he is really being asked to identify his spot on the social totem pole. And I know it seems ironic, but Native Americans are somewhere near the bottom. I know, as if the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, and Thanksgiving weren’t bad enough!

Just about every other group has a box. But we don’t. Even some obscure ones get some sort of shout-out on the Census form. Trying to decipher the whole thing, though, is a bit of an adventure.

When one finally reaches the “race” section of the form, he first encounters question 8: “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?”

OK, so before we even get into anything, we need to know if you’re Latino. If you score well on that question, you then get to narrow it down by specifying whether you are Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, or Cuban. And if you’re none of those, you get to write in your own origin. They even give you suggestions. Well, nothing fit me, so I failed that question.

Once you’ve figured out you’re not a “Question 8-er,” it’s on to question 9. This is where it starts to get interesting for us. There are many choices. I couldn’t find my box right off the bat, so I started to play the process of elimination game. “Black, African American, or Negro.” OK, I know I’m not that. Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian. No, No, No, No, No, No. Guamanian or Chamorro. I don’t think I know what that is. Oh, Guam. No. Samoan. I’ve heard of that, but I don’t really know where it is, and I’m generally good at geography, so I’m definitely not that.

Then I came to an interesting one. “American Indian or Alaska Native.” I wonder why they don’t write “Native American.” But I agree with the decision. It might confuse Texans, Toby Keith, and Sarah Palin. I think they might think they’re the “Native Americans.” But I really thought about checking this box. There’s actually a lot of perks to being Native American, and it’s hard to prove, so I might as well get the ball rolling, for my kid’s sake. I hear they get great deals on tuition. But real estate, not so much. So I decided this one was not for me.

I glanced back over “Black, African American, or Negro.” Well, in the strictest sense, some Arabs are Blacks, some are African-American, and I didn’t know we could still say "Negro." But I had a strong feeling that this box was not for me. No one else who checked it would be OK with me checking it. Don’t get me wrong, we’re very similar. We get profiled, blamed for stuff we don’t do, love watermelon, have huge family reunions, and might be older than one of our uncles. Most importantly, we scare white people. But that’s also how we’re different. See, white people are scared of black people because they think they might steal their purse. They’re scared of us because they think we might steal their freedom. So this is not my box either.

I started to get frustrated. Then there was “Asian Indian.” How confusing! My first thought was “India’s in Asia, right? “ “Asian Indian” just sounds weird. All this chaos was caused because up there they just had to say “American Indian,” and now down here they have to say “Asian Indian.” Plus, I always thought “Asian” meant you were Chinese or Japanese, or at least looked like you were Chinese or Japanese. So I gathered that this box meant Indians from India (which is in Asia), and that’s not me either. My people did not create that annoying sitar in the beginning of every Indian song.  I also know I’m not Indian because Indian girls won’t go out with me. I’ve tried many times… although maybe the first thing out of my mouth shouldn’t be “I loved Slumdog Millionaire.” Aishwarya, I’m sorry! Please return my calls!

Then I saw something promising: “Other Asian.” And here they suggested “Pakistani.” Since I couldn’t find a box for myself, I thought I might as well just check something I get mistaken for.

Me: “I’m Palestinian.”
White Guy: “You don’t look Pakistani.”
Me: “I’m not Pakistani, I’m Palestinian… we’re the ones on the news, throwing the rocks, fighting against the Israelis.”
White Guy: “Oh, you’re the ones that are doing all the suicide bombings.”
Me: “Hey!!!!... I said I was Pakistani…”

But I resisted the urge. I didn’t check this box either.

That left me just 2 choices. First, there was “White.” Even though many times we are told to check this box, I immediately knew this was not for me. Here, the rule is easy. If white people don’t think you’re white, you’re not white. And I know they don’t think I’m white. See, I can get away with being quasi-white, like Italian or Greek, and when white people think I’m white, they say really racist things around me. When they find out I’m not, they stop. So I’m not white.

So that leaves me with the last box. The “other” box. And they don’t even make you feel good about checking it. It’s labeled “some other race.” It’s like they’re saying, “If you haven’t found a box yet, we don’t really care.” Many people in our community have encouraged us to check the “other” box. But we are much more identifiable than “some other race.” When you get falafel, you’re not getting from a “some other race” restaurant. They don’t take me off the plane because they think I'm from "some other race." CNN didn’t report that 19 “some other race” terrorists took over those planes on 9/11. “Other” is dismissive. It means you’re not important enough to get a box.

The number of Arab-Americans is estimated to be anywhere from 2 million to 5 million. That is higher than many of the other groups explicitly mentioned on the form. We deserve a box. The reasons we don’t have one are complicated. Much of them are from within. Our organizations have thus far failed to win this battle. There is also a disturbingly significant portion of our community that is more than happy to keep checking the “White” box. And an Arab can pass for being white just fine, until he finds a flaw in every hummus except his mom’s, organizes a wedding, fights over the check, yells while talking about the weather, speaks in only hand gestures, drinks yogurt, takes off his shoes when he enters the house, calls everyone “cousin,” realizes his wife is his cousin, gets picked up at the airport by 25 relatives, curses people out in Arabic, covers his furniture in plastic, lives in a house for 6 with china for 200, struggles to find the beard-chest borderline, especially when he dances. So whatever we are, we are not white! And we are definitely more than “some other race.”

So Barack, give me my box. Then I’ll return the form, I promise. I’ll even insert my mom’s hummus recipe… but remember, hers is still the best!

 

 

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* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

Comments (1)
  1. You have to distinguish between race and ethnicity when it comes to Arabs. Being Arab is not a racial classification. Arabs are a racially diverse ethnic group. Arabs share a common language and not a racial heritage. Otherwise, you eliminate the African Arabs of Sudan and the blond-blue-eyed of Lebanon and Syria. When calling for inclusion in the census, Arab-Americans should have a box similar to that of Hispanic and Latino Americans, the other racially diverse ethnicity.

    Also, please remember that Arabs are caucasians, and that does not mean that they have to have skin as white as Scandinavians. Caucasians are the indigenous populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. Only in America is the term Caucasian restricted to Europeans and other lighter-skinned populations within these areas. I urge to reclaim caucasianism to Arabs in your work as well.


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