By Ray Hanania
For some 40 years, government officials have convinced Arab Americans to be patient and wait their turn to be included in the US Census.
Every 10 years — the last was in 2020 — the nation conducts a new census to count up every American, identifying minorities like blacks, Hispanics, Asians and a dozen others, but always excluding Arabs. Data from the census is then used to make two very important determinations: The counted communities automatically qualify for their share of more than $675 billion in federal funding and are also aggregated in the redrawing of congressional districts, giving those communities stronger voter counts that mean their representatives are more likely to win office.
By not being included as a recognized group, we Arab Americans have not only lost out on billions of dollars that could have fed our empowerment, we have also missed out on the ability to give our community a stronger voice in Congress. So what the US Census has done is pay Arab American activists to go out into the community and urge us to complete the forms, despite the fact that we are excluded.
Although Arab Americans will not directly benefit, we are a part of the bigger community and have been falsely told that one day we will be included. That lie has been told to Arab Americans for more than four decades, while some of our own people continue to tell us to “do what’s right” and fill out the census form, even though we will not benefit. I am tired of that lie. I am tired of being the whipping boy for all of America’s racist fears.
Arab Americans are supposed to work hard, pay our taxes and accept the fact that we will be denied our rights. We don’t even know how many of us live in America, which is how the government weakens a community. Are we a community of 1.5 million, 3.5 million or 5 million? We don’t know because the census excludes us. If the census included us, we would get the money we need to strengthen our voice and force the government to recognize communities where our population is concentrated, including in Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Illinois.
If Arabs were properly counted in the census, I believe the number of Arab Americans who hold congressional seats would be doubled from the current eight.
Not being counted is one of the most effective ways to subjugate a minority group like Arab Americans. We are often vilified in the mainstream American news media. Our rights are ignored and minimized, as they were in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, when several Arab Americans were killed in backlash violence. They have never been acknowledged as being among the victims of Sept. 11, but they should be included alongside the nearly 3,000 others who died on that date.
We are not counted as victims because we do not have a voice, because we are not included in the census, and because we don’t get our share of the tax dollar jackpot. That $675 billion in federal funding given to all the minority communities that are included in the census comes from the taxes each and every American pays from their hard-earned wages. Arab Americans pay the same tax as everyone else, but we get none of it back.
To further marginalize Arab Americans, some activists paid by the government to assuage the fears of the community want to convince us that, instead of being listed as “Arab” on the census forms, we should be described instead as “MENA” — a broad and vague term that refers to hundreds of ethnic groups from the Middle East and North Africa. They want us to be divided in the broad category of MENA rather than united under the label of Arab.
Arab Americans need to stop drinking the census Kool-Aid. We need to demand our rights and demand that we be respected. We pay our taxes, we serve in the military, patriotically defending this country, we abide by the laws, we follow the rules, and we contribute to the communities where we live. And what do we get in return? Nothing.
I am tired of being lied to by the Census Bureau. I am tired of the activists who tell us to be patient. We have been patient enough over the past 40 years and what has it gotten us? It is time for us to take a stand and demand that America respects us and gives us our share of the pie — a pie that we contribute to with our lives, our taxes, our hard work and our patriotism. When will America respond with respect?