Uncheckable Boxes

America continues to live up to its historical nickname, the “melting pot.” For the first time in nearly half a century, the United States is considering adding a new racial category to census forms, specifically addressing people of Middle Eastern or North African descent. The addition of alternate racial categories will provide more representative census data.

The Arab American population is diverse. Arab Americans claim ties to over 22 countries and various religious backgrounds, according to research done by Pew Research Center. With this much diversity within a growing sector of the population, the Census Bureau has assuredly encountered the problem of “uncheckable boxes.” These U.S. residents with roots in the Middle East and North Africa check boxes on Census questionnaires  regarding race identification they may feel do not apply, like "white," "black" or "other race."

"This research aims to improve data on race and ethnicity so that we can provide our country with important information that reflects our growing racial and ethnic diversity," said a Census Bureau analyst.

According to the Arab American Institute Foundation, the proportion of Americans who claim an Arab ancestry has more than doubled since the Census first measured ethnic origins in 1980. This places the United States’ population amongst the fastest growing Arab diaspora populations in the world. Census Bureau data shows that the population of Arab Americans has increased by 51% since 2000. Their estimate of the current Arab American population in the United States hovers around 1.8 million. However, the Arab American Institute Foundation estimates there are nearly 3.7 million Arab Americans living in the country and that number is growing.

Roberto Ramirez, a Census official who discussed the issue on a recent visit to the Pew Research Center, summed it up nicely saying, “We’re trying to develop a question that satisfies everyone.”


Anna Graff

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