Of being “White” or “Other” on the Census

Here’s something I hadn’t thought about before.

When Randa Kayyali reached the race and ethnicity portion of the 2010 Census, she stared at the form for a while.

Her options were white, Hispanic and/or Latino, black/African-American, Asian, Native Hawaiian and American Indian. She didn’t see a category for herself on the survey: Arab American. So she checked “Other.”

Kayyali is among millions of Middle Easterners living in the U.S. — hundreds of thousands in Texas and Houston — who are severely undercounted because they don’t have a precise category to denote their background on census surveys, researchers and advocates say.

Currently, the bureau defines “white” as those of European, Middle Eastern or North African descent. But many people of Middle Eastern and North African origins and descent argue otherwise— saying their background, culture and overall experience in the United States makes it clear that they are not white, nor viewed as white.

The U.S. Census Bureau came close to including a “MENA” category (for Middle East and North Africa) in the 2020 Census, recommending it as an optimal addition in a 2017 study. But in 2018, the bureau announced that it would not include the category at the direction of federal budget officials.

The communities have responded in frustration, fury, and in some cases, lawsuits. Not only are they being rendered invisible, but advocates fear they are losing out on political representation and services for their unique economic, health and educational needs. According to the 2020 Census website, the survey results determine the distribution of over $675 billion in federal funding.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Hassan Jaber, who is president of the Arab American nonprofit organization ACCESS and previously served on the Census Advisory Committee for six years. “All the research for the past six years indicated that if it were available, communities from MENA backgrounds would choose MENA instead of white.”


According to the group’s estimates, there are 3.7 million Americans of Arab descent. The census had estimated just 1.9 million. Texas has the fourth-largest Arab American population in the country at over 124,000, according to the Arab American Institute.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of long form census data found that the Middle Eastern population — which includes people from Turkey, Iran and Israel — was over 281,000 in Texas for 2013, and over 98,300 in the Houston metro area. However, the limited data yielded margins of error of 24,400 and over 27,700, respectively — decreasing the data’s reliability.

“There are many segments of our community that don’t recognize themselves on the existing race/ethnicity questions, and this could provide more encouragement for them to participate,” said Helen Samhan, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “It’s extremely important because many local, state and county governments rely on census data to provide services to their immigrant and foreign-speaking populations, and one of the ways those services can be allocated appropriately is if there is official data counts from the U.S. Census.”

As the story notes, people of Middle Eastern/Arabic descent had once fought to be classified as white in the Census, as there has always been an advantage to being considered white in America. But people don’t want to deny their own heritage, and that is the more prominent concern these days. There’s no question that the Census would have more accurate data with a more accurate set of categories, and it is likely that some people who aren’t responding to the Census because they feel there’s no designation that includes them would participate if there were one. I’d like to see us have a thorough discussion over what racial and ethnic categories the Census includes – and while we’re at it, let’s have the same discussion over gender categories – because it’s in everyone’s interest to have the most accurate and representative count of who is living in the USA. This will have to wait until we have a President that cares about things like representation, accuracy, and data, but let’s not wait any longer than that.

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11 Responses to Of being “White” or “Other” on the Census

  1. Manny says:

    Only when they break down the white category to what country their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, going back to the arrival of the first white settler, came from.

    Otherwise, I hate the question because none of the pertain to me, I am an American.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    “…. because it’s in everyone’s interest to have the most accurate and representative count of who is living in the USA.”

    Except we absolutely positively do NOT want to know the number of people in the US are NOT citizens. Number of bathrooms? Yes! Fuel source for your stove? Yaaaas! Citizenship status? No! Nope. Don’t want to know that. [sticks fingers in ears]

    I do agree, we absolutely need to know how many people are here that are from the Middle East, although that information isn’t as useful without knowing how many of that total are Muslims.

  3. Manny says:

    Everyone should just state everyone in the household is a citizen.

    Wonder why racists are so stupid, anyone that is not here legally would not hesitate to lie, they would just be doing what the Russian Cheeto does daily, lie, lie, and then lie some more.

    Why do you want to know if they Muslims, Bill? Do you hate Muslims as much as you hate brown people?

  4. C.L. says:

    I’m a citizen, but I plan on checking ‘No, I am not’ on the census should the question appear, just to see if the GOP Gestapo show up at my house.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    So, the genius plan here is to lie on official government documents? LOL, OK, I can’t see what could go wrong. What happened to, we’re the moral, law abiding folks fighting against the ebil, lawless conservatives?

    Manny, I found a book you definitely need to read:


  6. Manny says:

    Forgot to add racist and take away the conservative part, the Trump crooks are going through money faster than drunk sailors. What kind of conservative lives off debt?

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny, you’re a culero grande that has no actual argument to make. I get that you were an affirmative action admittee to law school, so I shouldn’t expect that much, but come on, man. It’s really sad. How did you ever write a brief? Did you ever put forth a cogent argument to a judge?

  8. Manny says:

    Bill I did not get in because of affirmative action, but if you think I did you are welcome to do some research. There were a lot of old white guys that did get in because of affirmative action, based on what we were told. I was in the top 10% in the bar exam.

    Same thing at Oklahoma State University, math and logic are my strong points. I was in the top one percent of the nation in math according to my ACT scores.

    I kinda feel sorry for you Bill, low educated white male that is struggling to make a living. So you spend your free time whining about how brown folks and Muslim folks are the reason for your struggles, poor baby.

  9. Bill Daniels says:


    In the spirit of conciliation and equanimity, I am going to once again volunteer to bury the hatchet, if you will. I personally find it unseemly that Kuff’s forum must suffer the debasement of commenter infighting. If you’re willing to get rid of the race card, I certainly will as well. If you wanna go low, however, you haven’t begun to see my deck of race cards.

    Let’s both agree right now to take the high road. Let’s honor Kuff’s playground by having erudite discussion of the issues. Attack ideas, not posters.


  10. Manny says:

    Bill, low is how many fist fights I had in my youth. I will bury the race card when you quit being a racist and a bigot.

    Affirmative action is what all you white racist people think is what got none white people in college. As one of my professors at U of H told me when we got in the elevator, “I didn’t know that ‘Mexicans’ were smart. I had A’s in both micro and macro economics, which what he taught.

    The most valuable lesson I learned at Oklahoma State University was that white people were not smarter. I did not know white people (except as teachers, they did not hire many if any Mexican teachers) as I went to a school district that separated white, black, and brown.

  11. Jules says:

    I don’t understand why Bill isn’t banned for his racist attacks on Manny and threatening to break into my house and steal my tv.

    Can we all go back to ignoring Bill again at least?

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