Before his term is done President Obama wants to permanently give Middle Easterners, and those from North Africa, special protections.
Rather than take steps to erase racial divisions, the White House has proposed the addition of a new racial category, MENA, that would affect health research, racial identity and anti-discrimination laws, USA Today reported.
If it is approved, it would be the biggest racial identity realignment in decades and could appear on census forms as early as 2020.
Currently people of Middle Eastern heritage are considered white.
“What it does is it helps these communities feel less invisible,” Helen Samhan of the Arab American Institute told USA Today. “It’s a good step, a positive step.”
According to the notice from the White House in the Federal Register the new designation could affect a variety of things including the Voting Rights Act, the drawing of congressional and state legislative district boundaries, establishing federal affirmative action plans, evaluating claims of employment discrimination as well as housing, mortgage lending and credit discrimination, enforcing school desegregation policies and helping MENA owned small businesses get federal grants and loans.
Some in the Middle Eastern community are concerned.
“It just aids and facilitates the state’s ability to know where these communities are in a very specific fashion,” Khalid Beydoun, a law professor at the University of Detroit, told USA Today. “My inclination is to think that individuals who might identify might not check the box for fear of retribution — especially if Trump wins.”
But he still supports the proposal.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s really a progressive stride forward,” Beydoun said. “But in the broader landscape, it’s taking place in the context of greater animus against Arab Americans, and really, Islamophobia.”
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