Checking the Right Box


Many people, like myself, come across a difficult decision when filling out a race category on a college application or a census. I am left with no choice but to check off the “white” race despite being Middle Eastern. On their website, the U.S. Census Bureau collects racial data to ensure that government programs and policies “fairly and equitably serve the needs of all racial groups.” However, many minorities are not represented fairly on the census and are obligated to incorrect self-identification.

Adding inclusive categories allows for more accurate data to be collected. Often, undercounting certain populations results in a lack of addressing problems for certain minorities. Colleges can have a thorough understanding of the different backgrounds of their students and provide more student services. Also, having an accurate number to describe a specific population can help address issues and provide the necessary resources to the community.   

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has evidence that most people with MENA (Middle Eastern or North African) origins do not identify as white. Additionally, a large percentage of white people do not consider MENA people as white. Many different ethnicities and races share this struggle of having to be forced to consider themselves a race or ethnicity that they do not accurately represent themselves with. Many groups of people are excluded from these applications and there are no clear statistics.

Five categories for data on race used by the U.S. Department of Education are American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. Two ethnicity categories are Hispanic Origin and Not of Hispanic Origin. 

This, however, might change as the Biden administration might add a Middle Eastern and North African category to U.S. federal surveys and census. Another possible change is adding “Hispanic or Latino” in the race category and replacing “Far East” with “East Asian.”

There has been no proposed change since 1997. 

Adding a separate box will help many groups feel less invisible and provide essential resources to certain groups of people.