I have always been fascinated by multicultural studies and racial/ethnic classification. One under-studied facet of race has been the racial/ethnic identity of Middle-Easterners and Arabs. The United States officially classifies people from these regions as white. However, I have never thought of them as what we consider white (although some do “look” white), and I am willing to bet many of you haven’t either.
I recently read an article about Middle-Eastern and Arab students applying to UCLA and not having an option to check the racial/ethnic classification they were looking for. Most did not identify with being “white” so some checked other options. Here are some quotes from the article, in italics:
For years the federal government has classified Arab Americans and Middle Easterners as white. But confusion and disagreement have led some students to check “Asian” or “African,” depending on what part of the Middle East they came from. Some, like Salame, simply marked “Other.”
This is interesting to me because if you think of countries and regions usually associated with the Middle East (including but not limited to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen), you rarely hear them in the context of the continent they are situated in; they are usually mentioned as a totally separate entity from Africa or Asia.
The UCLA students said having their own ethnic designation goes beyond self-identity and has real implications for the larger Arab and Middle Eastern communities.
The “white” label can hurt them with universities and companies that use the information to promote diversity, they say, and can result in the gathering of little or no statistical data on important issues, such as health trends in the community.
The Arab American Institute estimates that including Middle Easterners in the white category on the census has led to a population undercount of more than a million, said Helen Samhan, who works at the institute. There are more than 3 million Arabs in the United States, the institute says.
I also feel it’s important to make a distinction between Middle Eastern and Arab people because not every Middle-Easterner is Arab and not every Arab is a Middle-Easterner (North Africans, etc.). Also, people further assume Middle Eastern and/or Arab equals Muslim and that is not always the case either.
I feel that we, especially in the United States, have a lot to learn about the nuances and distinctions between people of Middle Eastern or Arab descent and issues of racial and/or ethnic classification and self-identification. What comes to your mind when you think of Middle Eastern people or Arab people? Do you agree with their classification in the United States as white people? Why or why not? I also welcome any discussion/enlightenment from people more knowledgeable than me on this subject.