Middle Easterners At University Of California Don't Want To Be Called "White"—It Might Hurt Their Affirmative Action Chances
Print Friendly and PDF

Is it just me, or is diversity becoming even more complicated? The process of sub-groupification seems infinite, like a Mandelbrot set where subdivisions go on forever.

Nicole Salame, 19, was filling out an application to UCLA last year when she got to the question about race and ethnicity. She thought a mistake had been made.

"I read it five times and was like, where is Middle Eastern?" the freshman recently recalled. "Is it on the other page, did it get cut off? I thought they forgot."

Her Lebanese-born mother told her Arabs are considered white, but Salame didn't believe her. Her high school counselor told her the same thing.

"It did not make sense to me, it's so far-fetched," said Salame, who ended up checking "Other." [Students push UC to expand terms of ethnic identification, LA Times, March 31, 2009]

"Other" sounds about right for the loyal sons and daughters of Allah.

Now several UCLA student groups — including Arabs, Iranians, Afghanis and Armenians — have launched a campaign to add a Middle Eastern category, with various subgroups, to the University of California admissions application. They hope to emulate the Asian Pacific Coalition's "Count Me In" campaign, which a few years ago successfully lobbied for the inclusion of 23 ethnic categories on the UC application, including Hmong, Pakistani, Native Hawaiian and Samoan.

That's right. In the new regime of defining identity according to ethnic group, then each tribe has to be puffed up with a yearly parade, college clubs, journals that define opinion, ethnic publications, statues of their heroic figures, restaurants—everything that adds to a feeling of specialness.

The UCLA students said having their own ethnic designation goes beyond self-identity and has real implications for the larger Arab and Middle Eastern communities.

The "white" label can hurt them with universities and companies that use the information to promote diversity, they say, and can result in the gathering of little or no statistical data on important issues, such as health trends in the community. Voter-approved Proposition 209 bars California's public colleges from considering race in admissions.

That's a polite way of saying that colorful people are preferred by companies looking to up their diversity stats; i.e. no white folks need apply.

The Arab American Institute estimates that including Middle Easterners in the white category on the census has led to a population undercount of more than a million, said Helen Samhan, who works at the institute. There are more than 3 million Arabs in the United States, the institute says.

There is no count of Middle Easterners at UCLA. Student groups estimate that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Persians and Arabs among the more than 40,000 students on campus.

Can we get a category of "traditional American"? Or would that be discriminatory?

Print Friendly and PDF