Arab Americans Chafe Over Census Form

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NEWS JUNKIE POST Featured Commentary:
By Ray Hanania

The first question I always get from “Americans” is, “Why do you keep calling yourself ‘Arab-American?’ You are American!”

It represents the rock and the hard place where American Arabs have been pushed by the lack of education among most Americans.

It’s aggravated by what I also call the U.S. government’s split personality when it comes to American Arabs. On the one hand, they want to know us. On the other, they don’t. Here’s what I mean.

The only time the United States government wants to know about American Arabs is when they are “profiling” us at airport and border security to “protect” the country from “the terrorist threat.”

But when it comes to counting people in the U.S. Census (so they can participate and share in government programs like grant funding awards, defining the borders of election districts for Congress, state legislatures or municipal councils), the U.S. government pretends American Arabs don’t exist.

That is exactly what’s happening now in the massive 2010 U.S. Census drive.

The government is neither completely stupid nor naïve. It is dishing out just enough money to American Arab organizations and PR agencies to do the outreach to the American Arab community.

The government could do it but doesn’t have a positive file on who we are. The government only has “the negative file,” the one where American Arabs have been followed and investigated by FBI agents repeatedly over the past 75 years.

The FBI investigated me over a two-year period beginning in August 1975, right after I had completed my active duty military service for this country during the Vietnam War. They said I must be a terrorist, because I was Arab; but they concluded the 45-page report by saying, in small type, that I’m just an American who is concerned about advancing his ethnic community.

During the two years, they talked to banks, employers, neighbors, friends and anyone who had anything to do with me. It was all in the report, most of it blacked out with marker. When I finally received a copy in 1979, it explained why I had been dismissed from jobs, why some neighbors and some friends had stopped talking to me or associating with me, and why several prospective employers had refused to hire me.

Hey, when the U.S. government puts its attention on American Arabs, it’s usually not for a good reason.

That’s why I am upset –- no, angry — that the government is pretending that it cares for us American Arabs by reaching out and asking us to complete our federal census form for 2010.

They tell us there are benefits we will get from participating.

Yeah? Like what? What benefits do we as American Arabs actually get from supporting anything this government does?

For example, when I go through an airport, I am immediately identified as an “Arab.” I’m pulled aside and my bags and possessions are thoroughly searched. The friends I am with who are not Arab are made to feel like they are traveling with Osama Bin Laden. And strangers who pass through normal levels of security look at me like I’m going to cut their throats or blow myself up when I get on the plane.

It’s humiliating. But no one really cares. Better to be safe than sorry. If we have to make Arabs go through embarrassing and humiliating procedures that single them out solely because of their “look” or their “profile,” so be it.

Meanwhile, Caucasian murderers and killers walk through security thankful that the government is doing at least part of their job to remove the Arab scourge. More than 95 percent of serial killers are Caucasian. Some of the biggest terrorists in the United States historically have been white supremacists and members of hillbilly militias and Neo-Nazi organizations based in the so-called “American heartland.”

But if you have olive skin and look Middle Eastern –- a profile that fits more than 200 nationalities and ethnicities mainly from Middle Eastern and Asian countries — you are the person they have to stop.

This is the “negative attention” we get from our government.

Then, this same government that has spent a fortune screwing us as American Arabs, spends a fortune trying to convince us that if we participate in the 2010 Census, we’re going to benefit?

I ask again, what is the benefit? There is no benefit. And there is no benefit for a reason. Arabs are not included on the census forms anyway.

The census form asks for your race, listing Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin. And they ask if you are Mexican, Mexican American (I didn’t know there were two categories of Mexicans), or Chicano. What kind of race is Chicano? What country do Chicanos come from? Chicanostan?

They ask the same question again on the long form: Are you white? Black, African American or negro? Are you American Indian or Alaskan Native? They even give you a place to write in your tribe name.

That’s not all. The form asks if you are Asian Indian, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean, Guamanian or Chamorro, Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan or other Asian. They give you a space so you can print your “race” like Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian “and so on.”

Oh, they don’t stop there. They ask if you are Pacific Islander and ask you to print your race like Fijian, Tongan “and so on.”

Way at the bottom, in case they missed someone, someone not so important, they have the throw-away line, to check here if you are “Some Other Race – Print Race.”

That is where I have to handwrite that I am Arab. And proud of it too, by the way.

Now, the U.S. government argues that Arabs are not a race. So we can’t be counted. They consider us Caucasian, although the last time I looked, it was the Caucasian hate groups in this country, like the former Bush administration, that singled out Arabs for special mistreatment, harassment and discrimination.

Arabs are “not” a race, but we are a “people” that must be profiled at airports, security centers, thrown out of buildings in New York City, expelled from seats on airplanes, and denied jobs and government grants and rejected by voters on Election Day.

“Not” a race, the government insists. Really? Wow. Is that why they have taken the other “races” and broken them down into so many miscellaneous categories? It is not enough to know that someone is Asian. They want to know what kind of Asian? What kind of Native American? What kind of Mexican? Is “Chicano” a race? Are “Latino” or “Hispanic” races?

But not “Arabs.”

We’re not a race.

We’re just a bunch of people that ignorant Americans can step all over and use as punching bags when the times get rough or some nut job we’ve never heard of before decides to declare himself the spokesman for all Arabs and Muslims.

So here’s the bottom line, U.S. government. You don’t put “Arab” on the form, I don’t fill it out.

Either add the category “Arab” to the form or throw out all of the categories and stop lying to us American Arabs about how much you care.

Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American Arab columnist, author and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com

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