Both of my parents were born in the country known as “the mother of the world:” Egypt. I have tan skin and my Egyptian roots run deep within my blood.
So, it’s surprising to me that my school considers me “white,” but I do not believe that I fall under this category.
I remember feeling frustrated as I filled out the Common Application for the university I would later attend and saw that Middle Eastern classifies as white. I’m one of the few hijabis at my private liberal arts school and so I certainly stand out at this university in which nearly 80% of the population is considered white.
Though I’m considered white on paper, I certainly do not receive the benefits of white privilege. There are many day to day struggles that Middle Eastern, North African and Arab Americans face. I have had my hijab pulled off before, I’ve been called a terrorist to my face and have lost track of how many times I have been “randomly selected” at airports.
[bctt tweet=”There are many day to day struggles that Middle Eastern, North African and Arab Americans face.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I carry pepper spray on my keys because I don’t know if I will be the next target of a hate crime You can never be too sure and so you walk around vigilantly when you’re in parking lots by myself. You don’t know if you’ll be pulled off a plane for speaking Arabic and you’re extra cautious when you take public transportation.
to be honest, it can be frightening at times living in a town with a bunch of rednecks.
[bctt tweet=”Though I’m considered white on paper, I don’t receive the benefits of white privilege.” username=”wearethetempest”]
And it’s not just my university that considers people of Middle Eastern descent to be white. The United States Census Bureau defines white as “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, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.”
When I have the option, I prefer checking off “other” on forms or documents. But most of the time, there is no “other” category and I am left with no option but to check off white. I do not consider myself white nor do I consider myself African-American (though I do know some Arabs who prefer to check off African-American rather than white).
According to the Arab American Institute Foundation, Arabs have been settling in the United States since the 1880s and there are roughly 3.5 million Americans of Arab descent.
[bctt tweet=” I do not consider myself white nor do I consider myself African-American.” username=”wearethetempest”]
According to USA Today, the reasoning behind Middle Easterners being considered white dates back several decades ago to Syrian Americans who argued they should not be considered Asian because that would have denied them citizenship under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Arab Americans and Americans of Middle Eastern descent certainly have different experiences than white Americans. We are more prone to being racially profiled and discriminated against because of our race. It’s time to add a new racial category for Middle Eastern people and the good news is…that might actually be coming soon.
Many advocacy groups have been lobbying for the United States Census Bureau to add a new category for people from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The MENA category might be added to the 2020 census.Census data is used when determining how congressional districts are drawn, as well as how funds are used for federal aid programs, according to The Washington Post.
[bctt tweet=”Though I’m considered white on paper, I certainly do not receive the benefits.” username=”wearethetempest”]
While it would be great for MENA people to be able to accurately express their identity, there are some unintended consequences that can result from a new racial category. This new category could mean that it would be easier for law enforcement officials to target and surveil these communities based off the demographics.
However, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans are a very diverse group and having the option of checking off MENA could facilitate this group being able to express their identity more clearly and accurately.
At least, I hope so.