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Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Adds New Middle Eastern and North African Ethnicity Box

posted on: Mar 28, 2024

The Biden administration has approved proposals to introduce new checkboxes, including one for the “Middle Eastern or North African” option under a revamped question about race and ethnicity.

Today, the Office of Management and Budget revised Statistical Policy Directive No. 15: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.

This decision follows a lengthy process that began in 2014, involving extensive research and discussions among federal officials. The announcement was made through a Federal Register Notice, allowing public inspection before official publication.

“These new standards mark a historic moment where Arab Americans will finally be visible in all federal data, including the U.S. Census. said Warren David, president of Arab America, “Today’s announcement is the culmination of more than four decades of organizing and advocacy by the Arab American community led by the collective leadership of the Arab American Institute and numerous organizations.”

These proposals, originally initiated during the Obama administration and later paused under the Trump administration, have been revived by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget officials.

Advocates of these changes argue that they will enhance the accuracy of racial and ethnic data, which is crucial for various purposes such as redrawing voting district maps, enforcing civil rights protections, and informing policymaking and research initiatives.

The exclusionary nature of the new Standards is disappointing, particularly its failure to acknowledge the racial diversity within the Arab American community, omitting Black Arabs and neglecting to include Armenian Americans, one of the largest populations in MENA.

While most people will not encounter these changes until the 2030 census forms are distributed, federal agencies, state-local governments, and private institutions participating in federal programs are preparing to align their forms and databases with the new standards. Each federal agency must submit a public action plan to the Office of Management and Budget by September 2025 and ensure compliance with the updated requirements by March 2029.

A significant aspect of these changes is the redefinition of “White” by excluding individuals who identify with Middle Eastern or North African backgrounds, such as Egyptian, Iranian, Iraqi, Israeli, Jordanian, Kurdish, Lebanese, Moroccan, Palestinian, Syrian, and Yemeni. This decision marks the introduction of the “Middle Eastern or North African” category as a distinct racial or ethnic option, the first of its kind since the establishment of federal standards in 1977.

For over three decades, advocates representing Arab Americans and other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) groups have campaigned for inclusion in official government forms. Recent studies indicate that many individuals of MENA descent do not identify as White, challenging the previous federal categorization that included individuals with origins in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa within the White category.

Compiled by Arab America

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