Monday, March 08, 2010

American Arabs should resist the Census and demand their rights

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American Arab rights jeopardized in Census 2010
By Ray Hanania

There is a big push by the US Census targeting the American Arab community to participate, but it’s not new.

They have been saying the same thing now for 30 years: if American Arabs would just fill out the Census form and “right in” the word “Arab” in the “Other” category at the bottom of the form, American Arabs will benefit immensely.

And every decade, the same thing happens. American Arabs participate and they get absolutely no benefits. No benefits, that is, except the American Arab organizations and activists hired and paid by the census to treat the American Arab community like mindless lemmings.

American Arabs are so disrespected that the Census isn’t evenly shameful about the exploitation, insisting against the facts that American Arabs will benefit.

Benefit? How? Will we get jobs for American Arabs? No. The only jobs that come from the Census go to the muscle minority communities like the African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and the others that make up the 29 racial and ethnic groups identified by name on the Census form.

Will be get local municipal, regional, state or federal contracts? No. The contracts will go to the 29 ethnic and racial groups named on the Census forms.

The fact is not one of the American Arab activists can identify one specific benefit that American Arabs have received since we first began supporting the Census campaigns back in the 1980s.

Yes, the 1980s. I was there writing for a community newspaper when the government reached out to American Arabs and I did my part, writing columns and essays urging American Arabs to participate.

In 1990, again, the government came to the American Arab community and hired members of our community and bought advertising and even awarded grants to groups that promoted the Census. I did my part then too, never asking for a penny, believing the BS that somehow things would change and American Arabs would benefit from being “counted.”

In 2000, we did the same thing. We participated. I wrote more columns. We lobbied the community and urged them to participate.

And you know what? Nothing happened. Even though American Arabs participated, we were excluded from major contract awards, employment and more importantly in political empowerment.

It’s no secret that the majority of American Arabs in Chicagoland live on the Southwest Suburbs in District 230, the high school district that includes three high schools. No one from the state suggested that a legislative district be drawn to encompass the Arab community and “empower” us by consolidating our voter strength.

Sound implausible. It’s not. The State of Illinois has done that very thing to create Hispanic Districts and Black Districts. They’ve given jobs to Hispanics, Blacks and Asians.

They’ve awarded contracts to those communities and awarded huge grants to fund arts and culture.

But not for American Arabs.

And you know why?

Because for the past 30 years, American Arabs have been taken for granted. Instead of fighting for what is ours – we pay taxes like everyone else in this country – we just went along trying to be “good citizens,” filling out the forms and writing in our names.

Now suddenly a group of high-profile selfish American Arab leaders who are paid by the Census – the only people getting jobs in our community – are telling us if we don’t fill out the Census forms “the American Arab community will lose.”

Lose what?

Lose jobs? We’re not getting even a sliver of what we deserve. There are 38,000 employees in the City of Chicago and we account for 250,000 of the city’s 3 million residents. That means we should get 7.5 percent of the 38,000 jobs.  That would be almost 2,400 jobs. We have barely 300 total jobs, or 2,100 jobs short of what we should get but don’t.

And it’s worse at the state level were $19 million are disbursed every year to fund cultural and arts projects for various ethnic and racial community groups. The American Arabs get about $200,000 and half of that goes to non-Arab groups identified as “Middle Eastern” including Iranians and Israelis and Jews, the latter group also get even more from the state of Illinois.

This pattern is repeated in nearly every state in the union. We’re 4.5 million American Arabs and what do we have to show for it? Harassment, neglect, abuse, denial and one of the highest job loss rates in the country.

We have a handful of teachers in Chicago, and even less in the suburbs. We have a handful of elected officials, and not one district carved out for American Arab empowerment.

Now you can continue to do what we have always done, bent over without as much as a whimper and listen to the paid American activist flaks who are telling us to support the Census – to protect their jobs.

Or, for the first time in 30 years, we can stand up and make a statement against being exploited by a country that routinely abuses and denies our rights while targeting us for terrorist profiling.

We can make a statement in a powerful way or we can allow ourselves to be marginalized by American Arab leaders who benefit from the blood-money they are paid to lead us into national weakness.

Sometimes, it is easier to pick up crumbs than to fight for the cake.

I say, let’s fight for our rights and tell the Census and their mercenaries to “take that Census form and Shove it!”


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