A New York Times Survey: MENA in the Census



We have published our piece about how people of Middle Eastern and North African descent in the U.S. identify. Here is a gift link to the story so you can read it and share with others.

Thank you again for taking time to participate in the callout and sharing your viewpoint with us.

The New York Times”

Read the article for free here.

I was invited by the New York Times to take a survey about how I identify. Basically, on the Census, or any chance I get, I check the box that says "Black/ African American." For me, that is the most accurate description. I am African American. When I go home to visit my brothers and family I go to Africa. Morocco is North Africa. Not the Middle East. Morocco is further west than England.

The US Census sees North Africans and Mideastern Arabs as Caucasian AKA White. Is this an awkwardly-handed gift of White privilege? It works to boost their numbers. That's why I won't participate. The "Black/African American" numbers need to be boosted.

I don't get to pass for White with White Americans and have nothing to do with their culture. I did grow up with White people. Yet I wasn't exactly one of them. Within my friends, yeah I was one of the gang. But when traveling with White friends I was the one pulled aside for questioning at the border. It still happens.

I was naive and did not understand why I was seen as different until I chose to study in Paris where the authorities know what a North African face and name looks like, better than the American border patrol. The Americans just see a dark guy. In Paris I was detained for searches on the train, in public, and at the airport. The police department had me check in regularly to fill out paperwork and answer questions. They wanted to make sure I didn't try to move there.

When I returned to the United States I was better equipped to recognize White confusion. "Where are you from?" And "Your name is so unique." And "I just have never heard of someone named Youssef." or "Do you know Yusef Lateef?"

Why does the Census want to know which part of Africa I represent? For statistics reasons? I stand with all of Africa. The NYT proposal is interesting. Add a box on the Census for SWANA or MENA, but again it's divisive. Why does the Census want to break North Africa from Central Africa, West Africa, East Africa, or South Africa? I will still want to check the box that says "Black/African American." Yes. Count me in with Black and African American Peoples. Please.

Africa holds immense beauty and power, with vibrant cultures and rich resources. Sadly, colonial powers carved Africa into fragmented pieces, easier to exploit and control. These divisions fostered conflict and instability, serving those who sought to maintain power, and their legacy lingers today, in the oddest places. Yet, the dream of a united Africa, a force for good in the world, remains a powerful aspiration.


I am going to read in a SWANA event in SF on March 21. I will tell you more about the details soon, on this blog. In the meantime, take advantage of the free article link. It's thought provoking.