Zeyad Maasarani

Posted by Zeyad Maasarani on August 12, 2009 in News Clips

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. — The United States Census has raised uproar in minority communities around the country, particularly amongst Arab-Americans.

"Don’t sit back quietly and accept this!" Ray Hanania, an Arab-American radio personality from Chicago, told IFN. "As a community, we should be screaming discrimination at the top of our lungs and demand our share!"

A comedian and a journalist, Hanania is very vocal about his grievance with the upcoming Census, and thinks Arabs should opt out from filling out next year’s questionnaire.

The 2010 Census, which will define the nation’s demographic landscape and proportionately allocate federal and state money to develop minority communities, will not specify Arab or Middle Eastern/North African as an ethnic minority, US Census Partnership Specialist Rashad Al-Dabbagh told IFN.

When asking every American’s ethnicity, the 2010 Census will specify White, Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Pacific-Islander and several other ethnicities, including South-Asian — but Arab will not be specified.

"The census doesn’t count Arabs as an ethnic minority," Al-Dabbagh said. "We’re counted as white, but we’re not treated that way."

There are many benefits to Arabs being counted as a minority, Al-Dabbagh said, arguing that Hanania’s approach would prove disastrous.

Based on Census findings, $300 Billion will be distributed by the Federal government to states, counties, and cities.

"This money could specifically help our communities if we’re accurately counted," Al-Dabbagh said, imploring Arabs to write-in their ethnicity.

"Many Arabs see that ‘Arab’ is not listed as a category so they either choose ‘White’ or elect not to fill the form out entirely," he said.

Although the Census does not specifically specify "Arab" as an ethnicity, it releases publications in 14 languages, including an Arabic tutorial on how to fill out the Census form, but the form itself must be filled out in English.

Still, some Census officials admit there is a cultural and linguistic barrier that prevents people from being properly counted.

"The mission of the 2010 Census is a ‘complete and accurate count’ of the entire population of the United States," Census Media Specialist Lynne Uyeda told IFN.

"It takes an act of congress to add or delete anything on the Census form… [but] everyone may self-identify their race and their ethnicity," she added.

One southern California lawyer is advocating exactly that.

"We all have a civic responsibility to complete the survey because it means more federal money for our state, cities, schools and better congressional representation," said Reed Hamzeh, the principal Attorney at Hamzeh Law in Costa Mesa, Calif. "If enough of the estimated six million Arab Americans [specify ‘Arab’ as their ethnicity], the ‘Arab’ ethnic category should be included in the 2020 census."

The Arab American Institute, a Census partner organization based in the nation’s capitol, hopes that an educational approach will help Arab Americans be better represented in the upcoming Census.

"The 2010 Census is not perfect, and some Arab-Americans may be confused about the racial choices presented," said Helen Samhan, the institute’s executive director.

"In my view, the importance of being counted for congressional apportionment and allocation of federal funds for the cities and counties where Arab-Americans live cannot be over stated. We can voice our concern about race options, without opting out of the final count."

Paranoia over personal information being passed on to other sectors of the government is unwarranted, since federal law protects the personal information gathered by the Census for 72 years. The Census is mandated by the Constitution and is required by law.

Original Article