US Revises System of Categorizing Individuals by Race and Ethnicity, First Change in 27 Years

After 27 years, the U.S. government is making changes to its method of classifying individuals based on race and ethnicity. This is being done in the hopes of accurately representing the Hispanic and Middle Eastern/North African community in the population count.

On Thursday, the Office of Management and Budget announced changes to the categories for race and ethnicity. These revisions are part of an ongoing effort to classify and describe the population of the United States. This process is subject to change as societal attitudes and immigration patterns evolve, and also serves as a means for individuals in a diverse society to identify with the statistics generated by the federal government.

The new changes will merge the previously separate inquiries regarding race and ethnicity into a single question on forms. This will allow individuals the choice to select multiple categories, such as “Black,” “American Indian,” and “Hispanic.” Studies have revealed that a significant number of Hispanic individuals struggle with answering the race question on its own as they perceive race and ethnicity to be closely related. As a result, they often opt for “some other race” or choose not to answer the question.

The options for race and ethnicity questions will now include a new category for Middle Eastern and North African individuals. Previously, individuals with ancestry from countries like Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, and Syria were encouraged to identify as white, but now they will have the opportunity to identify themselves in this newly added group. According to data from the 2020 census, which asked for more detailed information on respondents’ backgrounds, it is estimated that 3.5 million people in the US identify as Middle Eastern and North African.

The revisions implemented by the government include removing the terms “Negro” and “Far East” from federal forms. In addition, the terms “majority” and “minority” are also being eliminated due to their failure to accurately represent the diverse racial and ethnic makeup of the country. Officials also suggest collecting more detailed data on race and ethnicity, going beyond the basic standards and including categories such as “Haitian” or “Jamaican” for individuals who identify as Black.

A team of bipartisan government statisticians and officials, spent two years negotiating the modifications to the standards.

The modifications will have an impact on the process of gathering data, creating forms and conducting surveys, as well as on the decennial census questionnaires released by the national government. Furthermore, state governments and private organizations are likely to follow suit, as they typically follow the example set by Washington. Within the next 18 months, federal agencies are required to devise a plan outlining how they will implement these changes.

There are some who are not in agreement with the most recent modifications.

Some individuals are dissatisfied with the exclusion of certain groups, such as Armenians or Arabs from Sudan and Somalia, in the examples used to classify individuals of Middle Eastern or North African descent. The change does not accurately represent the racial variety within our community, and it is incorrect.