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This Land Was Made for You and MENA

The U.S. Census may add a ‘Middle Eastern and North African’ pan-Semitic racial category. What could possibly go wrong?

Michael Lind
June 29, 2022
Michael Lind
Michael Lind chronicles civilizational shifts and national trends, writing about American politics and culture with a deep understanding of history and appreciation for America's highest ideals.
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Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

On June 15, the Biden administration announced that it is considering the addition of a Middle East and North African (MENA) category to the U.S. Census by 2024. “We will do so using tried and true processes, with experts from across the Federal Government reviewing the Standards,” said the chief statistician of the United States, a position within the White House Office of Management and Budget. “This will help ensure the Standards better reflect the diversity of the American people.”

For years some ethnic activists have advocated for separating Arab Americans and others who are wholly or partly of Middle Eastern or North African descent from the “non-Hispanic white” category to which they are now assigned in the Census. By itself, this makes sense. There is no reason to lump Egyptian Americans and Iraqi Americans together with Norwegian Americans and Greek Americans under the nonsensical label of “non-Hispanic white,” which was invented by the federal government in the 1970s.

But in the post-1970s system of affirmative action, public and private preferences in hiring, contracts, loans, and college admissions go to specific national-ancestry groups only if those groups are part of larger panracial or pseudo-racial categories like African American, Hispanic/Latino/LatinX, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI).

Now, however, there may be financial and other benefits in store for ethnic groups currently defined as non-Hispanic white but who will have the opportunity to reclassify themselves members of a new nonwhite “race”: MENA, a pseudo-race defined by geography (like AAPI) rather than culture (Hispanic) or ancestry (African American). If a MENA category were to be created, then presumably Jewish Americans along with Christian and Muslim Arab Americans would become eligible for membership in the new official “race”—and have access to preferences accordingly.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, as Hispanics lobbied to get a separate pseudo-racial category of their own in the Census in order to qualify for affirmative-action privileges, some demanded that so-called “white ethnics” like Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, and other non-Anglo Protestants should get a piece of the action. Hadn’t Northeastern WASPs long kept Jews out of their prep schools, Ivy League colleges, social clubs, and white-shoe firms? Weren’t there saloons and stores in the past with signs saying “No Dogs or Irish?” Wasn’t the historic discrimination against Mexican Americans in the Southwest more like that against non-WASP white ethnics in the Northeast than against Black Americans? And what about the snobbery faced by the large diaspora of Christian Lebanese Americans, among other Arab Americans?

The federal bureaucracy that assigns racial identities to U.S. citizens replied: Sorry, Jewish and Polish and Italian Americans, you belong to the same ethnoracial community as Boston Brahmins. You’re all non-Hispanic whites. So Jewish Americans and Arab Americans were locked out of the ancestry-based affirmative action racket, like the others. But now, Jewish and Arab Americans (sorry, Irish, Italians, and Poles!) can take part in the American system of divide-and-rule racial clientelism, if the Census adds the MENA category.

What would the consequences of a MENA Census category be? One should be obvious: The number of self-identified MENA Americans would explode far beyond any increase caused by immigration or fertility, as the benefits of affirmative action for MENAs are discovered by non-Hispanic whites. Under the new Census rules, discovering a long-forgotten Jewish or Arab ancestor might become as popular among non-Hispanic whites as claiming to have had a distant Cherokee progenitor has been since the affirmative action patronage system began in the 1970s.

On the down side, a MENA category might provoke a huge increase in antisemitism in the United States. The Democratic Party and the mainstream media—but I repeat myself—overplay the importance on the right of crackpots who believe in “replacement theory,” but such nuts do exist. They think that ZOG—“Zionist-Occupied Government”—is deliberately trying to bring about the extinction of white Christian Americans and their replacement by nonwhite immigrants.

An obvious rebuttal to this conspiracy theory is the fact that Jews themselves are classified by ZOG as white. Why would Jews replace themselves? But if the federal government writes Jews into the nonwhite category, don’t be surprised when the neo-Nazis and the Klan claim vindication.

According to Pew, the richest religious groups in the United States are Hindus, Jews, Episcopalians, and nonreligious, a category that may include many East Asian Americans. For their part, Arab Americans are twice as likely as other Americans to have a postgraduate degree, and their average income is 22% higher than the national average.

If Jewish Americans along with Arab Americans are moved from the non-Hispanic white category into the MENA category, then there may be two “races”—AAPI and MENA—which will be entitled to affirmative action and other race-based privileges, even though on average their members are much better off economically than the remaining non-Hispanic white Americans, who will remain a plurality if not a majority of the U.S. population for generations to come.

Existing colors in the rainbow coalition might not be pleased when a new, unusually wealthy and well-educated stripe squeezes its way in.

Meanwhile, the departure of Jewish Americans and Arab Americans to form their own small, highly visible, officially authorized racial club will leave the remaining non-Hispanic white category less educated and poorer on average. By taking two relatively affluent groups in the United States and reclassifying them as members of a separate, official “Semite” minority instead of as members of the national demographic majority, what could possibly go wrong?

The adoption of a MENA category by the Census, like the earlier adoption of new official racial categories, is also likely to produce a proliferation of MENA nonprofits, lobbies, and other associations funded by big foundations, billionaires, and corporations as part of the half-century strategy of promoting identity politics to divert attention from class conflict in the United States. Relations between Jewish Americans and Arab Americans would inevitably deteriorate quickly thanks to battles for influence over MENA institutions.

Apart from multiplying the number of fake Arabs and phony Jews, provoking a wave of resentful antisemitism among paranoid white gentiles, and worsening Jewish-Arab relations in America, what other effects might a MENA category have?

The existing colors in the rainbow coalition might not be pleased when a new, unusually wealthy and well-educated stripe squeezes its way into the already-crowded spectrum. Our racial spoils system is already being strained by resentment among many Black and Hispanic activists and their virtue-signaling elite white allies (though not necessarily among Blacks and Hispanics in general) against academically competitive Asian Americans—excuse me, AAPIs. More or less overt discrimination against Asian Americans is practiced by universities to make room for more Black and Hispanic Americans, if not “non-Hispanic whites.” The same thing will inevitably happen to MENAs, following the rigid quota logic of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Expect the MENA quota for university admissions, faculty posts, private sector jobs, and nonprofit grants to become a ceiling for Jewish and Arab Americans, not a floor.

But these are all problems for the next generation. I, for one, welcome the creation of a MENA category—and the sooner, the better.

I am only one-eighth Jewish and did not even know it until I was in my 40s. But under the “one-drop rule”—an inheritance from the Jim Crow era that has been repurposed in the service of government-promoted reverse racial discrimination—if the Census adds a MENA category, thanks to my smidgen of Jewish ancestry, I can cease to be “non-Hispanic white” and become a BIPOC eligible for all sorts of preferences in hiring, government contracting set-asides, small business loans, and more. I can be a certified member of the newest Census category: the Semite race.

And it’s about time. I might be blond and blue-eyed and mostly of Northern European descent, but I have never fit into the non-Hispanic white culture to which my parents and the doctor misassigned me at birth. I don’t like non-Hispanic white foods like potato salad and green bean casseroles, and I have no interest in traditional non-Hispanic white sports like dominoes, miniature golf, and lacrosse. At the same time, although I never knew why until now, I have always enjoyed bagels and Lebanese food. Every year as a child I insisted that my parents let me stay up late to watch Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, and my inner Semite was awakened the first time I saw Lawrence of Arabia.

Alas, I am too old to benefit from pro-MENA discrimination in college admissions and most careers at the expense of students with higher test scores and better academic records. And I don’t have any use for loan or loan guarantee programs for which I, as a newly certified MENA, would be eligible—unlike any warehouse and thrift store minimum wage workers who happen to be non-Hispanic whites and therefore privileged by definition.

Still, I have always wanted a no-show corporate board membership that pays a couple of hundred-thousand dollars a year. I would be proud to serve as the token MENA on the board of a Wall Street hedge fund or Silicon Valley venture capital partnership, representing the Judeo-Arab community. I am a river to my people.

If the government does adopt a MENA category, I hope that the Census sends all of us newly minted MENAs a special welcome letter, which might look something like this:

After receiving your application and DNA sample, we are pleased to inform you that your official racial classification has been changed from “non-Hispanic White” to “Middle Eastern-North African.” Congratulations on your new racial identity.
If you were born in the United States, please contact the county in which you were born so that your birth records can be retroactively falsified. A copy of this letter can serve as proof of your MENA identity. In addition, skull and nose measurements by a board-qualified racial scientist can certify your new classification.
Most of my ancestors are not Middle Eastern-North African. Can I still be a MENA?
Yes. Under the one-drop rule inherited from the era of racial segregation and in effect today, if only one of your ancestors a long time ago was from the Middle East or North Africa, you qualify as a member of the American MENA minority.
What if I get tired of being a MENA and want to go back to my earlier racial classification?
That is illegal. Your racial identity is the one that the federal government assigns you, not the one you choose for yourself. Race is not gender.
Is there a MENA flag?
The U.S. government does not endorse or oppose the pan-racial symbolism adopted by members of any pseudo-racial Census category. However, some MENA groups have endorsed a combination of the pan-Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party flag with green, white, and black stripes and a red triangle with a yellow Star of David, as a symbol of pan-Semitic unity.
Doesn’t affirmative action for MENAs violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws all public discrimination and most private discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin?”
That statute is no longer operative.

Michael Lind is a Tablet columnist, a fellow at New America, and author of Hell to Pay: How the Suppression of Wages Is Destroying America.