Historic change: US adds Middle Eastern and North African identity categories

NEW DELHI: For the first time in 27 years, the United States is revising how it categorizes race and ethnicity, aiming to more accurately represent its residents, especially those identifying as Hispanic or of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) descent. This announcement was made by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Thursday, marking a significant shift in how the federal government acknowledges the country’s evolving demographic landscape.
Reflecting a diverse nation
The changes, which stem from a desire to better capture the complex mosaic of American society, include the integration of race and ethnicity questions into a single query on federal forms. This allows respondents to select multiple identities simultaneously, addressing confusion among Hispanic individuals about existing classifications. Additionally, a new category for MENA heritage will enable people from countries like Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, and Syria to identify themselves more accurately, moving away from the previous encouragement to mark ‘white’.
Updating language and encouraging detailed data
In an effort to modernize and respect the sensitivities around language, terms such as “Negro,” “Far East,” “majority,” and “minority” will be removed from federal documentation. The revised guidelines also push for the disaggregation of data within broad categories like Asian and Black, highlighting the necessity of recognizing disparities within these groups.
Political and social implications
These adjustments are not without their broader implications, touching on redistricting, civil rights enforcement, and potentially the political landscape, as they reflect and respond to shifts in societal attitudes and immigration patterns. The initiative, resumed under President Joe Biden’s administration after a hiatus during Donald Trump’s term, underscores the government’s commitment to inclusivity and accurate representation.
Mixed reactions
While many welcome the new standards as a step towards visibility and representation, concerns remain. Some Afro Latinos fear that the combined race and ethnicity question may dilute their specific identity, though studies suggest little impact on response patterns. Others lament the exclusion of certain groups within the MENA category, calling for a more inclusive approach.
Looking forward
Federal agencies are now tasked with implementing these changes within 18 months, setting the stage for a transformed landscape in data collection and analysis.
(With inputs from agencies)


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