The MENA Box is Here

The Center for Arab Narratives
March 28, 2024
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The MENA box is here!

After decades of pushing for better statistical representation of Arab and Middle Eastern or North African(MENA) communities in the United States, the federal Office of Management and Budget has announced major changes to the way all federal agencies will collect race and ethnicity data, as of March 28, 2024.  

You can read all of the details here:

Not only does this mean that Arab and MENA people in the United States will have better options for self-identifying on the Census and many other government forms, but it ensures advocacy and service organizations will have more complete information about the communities they serve.

Further, with these major revisions to federal race and ethnicity guidelines, the first since 1997, all communities will have better and more accurate ways to self identify. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR’s intrepid Census reporter, has a great breakdown of all of the new changes.

Now, there is still a lot of work to be done. Federal agencies will have until March 2029 to fully implement these changes. And there is no telling how long it will take for states and other locales to get onboard. Rest assured, CAN will continue working with the National Network of Arab American Communities and other national partners to advocate for quick and efficient implementation of these new standards.

Also, the specific groups and communities that will be counted under MENA (and not counted!) will need to be further updated. Specifically, CAN would like to see Armenians, Sudanese and Somalis counted under the MENA community, in addition to Sudanese and Somalis being counted as part of the Black community, as they currently are.  The prominent inclusion of “Israeli” as one of the detailed options in the new OMB standards is causing some concern in the Arab community, given that Census data shows that people who self-identify as Israeli are less likely to choose the MENA box than any other group currently included as part of MENA.  

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of all of these changes is that the federal government will no longer be making distinctions between a race and an ethnicity, in terms of collection of identity data. The new directives are very clear that the language in the question stem should be “what is your race and/or ethnicity,” and that federal agency data collection forms “may not indicate to respondents that they should interpret some categories as ethnicities and others as races.” This is a major change in direction for how the federal government has discussed race and ethnicity for decades, so we will be watching how this plays out.

For now, we celebrate the accomplishment that so many people and organizations have been fighting for since the 1980s. Then we get to work—holding federal and state agencies accountable for implementing the MENA box.