Rob D. sent along a commercial, made by the non-profit organization Iranians Be Counted, aimed at encouraging Iranian Americans filling out the U.S. Census to check “Other” and write in “Iranian.” It features a famous Iranian commedian doing a bunch of outrageous personalities, but in between the schtick is an argument that there is power in numbers and, therefore, a benefit to being identified as specifically Iranian:
This type of effort is really interesting and taps into a larger debate about Census categories. How do we divide up the categories that we count? Iranians are a much smaller group than, say, Arab American Persian (which is currently not an option on the U.S. Census). If there is power in numbers, then wouldn’t it be better to write in “Arab American” “Persian”? But, if you write in Arab Persian instead of Iranian, the resources to be gained from being counted may not benefit your community specifically. [As two commenters have pointed out, Iranian Americans are not Arab, except for a small minority. Iranians are Persian and most speak Farsi, not Arabic. My mistake.]
The Asian American community in the U.S. is a good example of this conundrum. “Asian” is a social construction; it is an umbrella label that includes very, very different groups. There is great power in the social construction because it gives “Asians” a presence in American politics that, for example, the Hmong or the Vietnamese alone could never have. But counting Asians as a group also means obscuring some very important differences among them.
For example, Asians outearn Whites in income surveys, suggesting that Asians should be excluded from programs trying to help groups escape poverty. But, in reality, the groups we categorize as Asian vary tremendously in their average socioeconomic status. Some Asian groups (e.g., the Japanese) outearn Whites; other Asian groups (e.g., the Hmong) have very high poverty rates. When we look at the data broken out by smaller groups, we see more need, but the group itself is small enough that it can be ignored by politicians.
UPDATE: Roshan, in the comments, corrects me further:
Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Not all Iranians are Persians… Persians compose only 51 percent of the population. Other groups include the Azeris (24 percent), Gilaki and Mazandaranis (eight percent), Kurds (seven percent), Arabs (three percent), Lurs (two percent), Baluchs (two percent), and Turkmens (two percent) (Hakimzadeh, 2006).
Jen — March 29, 2010
Ehm, Iranians are not Arabs. There are of course Arabs in Iran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Arabs) but Iranian does not equal Arab!
Liz B — March 29, 2010
The trouble with even suggesting Iranians choose "Arab Americans" is that they are not of Arab ancestry! They are of Persian origin. You're telling them to again mark themselves as something they're not. Furthermore, the term "Arab" reflects just as many groups as does "Asian".
Penny — March 29, 2010
You might be interested to see all the "action posters" published by the US Census to encourage the participation of various language groups and other target populations...
I saw the Bengali one in a temple over the weekend. The gist of the message (my friend explained) was that "in the time it takes to make a cup of tea, you could fill out the census." So that one was appealing more to the idea that it was not a big time commitment. Others appear to have very different messages.
Roshan — March 29, 2010
I believe writer’s analysis is incorrect. Not all Iranians are Persians, and this effort to have Iranians self identify on the census is in response to the low numbers. The 2000 U.S. census estimated that there were only 300,000 Iranians in the United States, yet most other scholars estimate there are that many Iranians in Los Angeles alone. This effort is to help the growing Iranian population get greater acres to social and political resources. Of course the census categories are absurd, and insists on using “race” as a category when “race” is a social construct. Many Iranians identify as “white,” others as Asian I. This effort is no different than similar one from the LGBTQ, Intersexed, and other non-counted communities.
While the writer corrected the false statement that Iranians were Arab, there are still some facts that need to be cleared up. The Iranian community is diverse in terms of ethnic and religious groups. Persians compose only 51 percent of the population. Other groups include the Azeris (24 percent), Gilaki and Mazandaranis (eight percent), Kurds (seven percent), Arabs (three percent), Lurs (two percent), Baluchs (two percent), and Turkmens (two percent) (Hakimzadeh, 2006).
The dominant U.S. attitude towards people of “Middle Eastern” decent, and the continued existence of an autocratic and authoritative regime “back home”, makes Iranians more unwilling to identity themselves for fear for social or political reprisals (Chaichian, 1997; Mostafi, 2003; Mostashari and Khodamhosseini, 2004). Many Iranians ace discrimination because to the racial stereotyping and Orientalism that portrays MENA people as dark, shady, terrorists. It is very important for Iranians, like other comminutes, to self identify; particularly in light of U.S. Iran relations over the last 30 years.
Jillian C. York — March 30, 2010
"Iranian" is a strange choice for a "racial" category, since Iranians aren't all of the same "racial makeup."
That said, I'm surprised you haven't touched on the Arab-American "Yalla! Count" campaign, which I wrote about here: http://jilliancyork.com/2010/03/05/check-it-right-you-aint-white/
People of Arab descent in the world have crossed the 500 million mark, and although they're still a relatively small portion of our population, they're highly visible and deserve to be counted.
Dubi — March 30, 2010
Why is "Vietnamese" any less of a social construct than "Asian"? Why essentialise (and prioritize) purported national or ethnic groups, but not regional groups?
Addison — September 27, 2013
With a PhD you would think Wade could do some actual research and not have to be corrected so much.