The Proposed New MENA “Racial” Classification and the Jews
[Cross-posted from my blog at The Times of Israel]
The Biden administration is considering adding a new “Middle Eastern and North African” racial classification to the US Census. If this classification gets written into law, it will inevitably spread to college applications, civil rights forms, and other documents that ask Americans to indicate their race.
What would this mean for the American Jewish community? Will Israeli Americans be part of the MENA classification? Mizrahi Jews? Ashkenazi Jews who feel closer ties to their Middle Eastern heritage than to their more recent European places of origin? Why add a new classification to begin with?
As discussed in my new book, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America, through the late twentieth century, most immigrants to the United States from Arab countries were Christians from Lebanon, along with a smaller number of Muslims and Jews. After some uncertainty early in the early twentieth century, American law and custom ultimately treated these immigrants and descendants as “whites.” For example, actors such as Danny Thomas played “white” roles and co-starred with white leading ladies without controversy–something that would have been unthinkable for black or east Asian Americans.
In the late 1970s, when the federal government created our modern racial classification scheme, Arab Americans were placed in the white classification, along with Iranians, Afghans, Berbers, Jews, Chaldeans, Armenians, and others. This decision attracted no controversy, as the overwhelming majority of Arab Americans self-identified as white.
Nevertheless, in the 19
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