Rep. Rashida Tlaib last week repeatedly accused the Trump administration of trying to erase “people of color” like her and asked an official to affirm she is not white.
Speaking during a Wednesday House Oversight Committee hearing about the 2020 U.S. Census, Tlaib complained that the form does not include a “Middle Eastern/North African” ethnicity option. The Michigan Democrat noted that the Trump administration decided against adding the category despite an Obama-era study that recommended doing so.
“Dr. Dillingham, do I look white to you?” Tlaib asked the Census Bureau director, Steven Dillingham.
Dillingham said he would respect whatever ethnic identity Tlaib preferred. He then began to explain that the Census provides a write-in field for people who do not feel accurately represented by the standard categories. But Tlaib cut him off and said that “circling white” on the census “changed my lived experience as a person of color.”
Tlaib — an outspoken member of the “squad” of progressive first-term congresswomen — went on to tell Dillingham that “there’s a difference when you actually have the check-off box.”
“Sir, it does not have the same impact, and you know that,” she said of the write-in option. “You know that. That’s why the community pushed to add the category ‘MENA,’ and they did it right. They went through the process, and they got it approved. And this administration decided to ignore them and make them invisible again.”
“Right? That is what you are doing, you’re making us invisible,” Tlaib added. “No, the continued absence of this ethnic category contributes to erasing us.”
Tlaib explained that “Middle Eastern/North African” must be included as a category on the Census because ethnicity decides “how they’re going to treat us.” Without Census “representation,” she said, her “community” would be deprived of funding, health research, civil rights protections and business loans, among other government services.
For Rashida Tlaib, the Census is personal
Coming back to the personal, Tlaib reiterated that she does not identify as white.
“Director, we need to get it right because I am not white. I’m not,” she said. “And I don’t try to say to others that you should be this or that. But when I sit on this form and I look at it, I don’t see myself represented on this form. And I think that’s a huge issue for people like me.”
“Congresswoman, I can assure you that we continue to study race and ethnicity and the options for self-reporting that,” Dillingham responded before Tlaib cut him off again.
“We’ve been studied enough,” Tlaib said, despite having earlier suggested she wanted more research of Middle Eastern and North African Americans.
Dillingham offered that the change she wanted could potentially be made ahead of the 2030 Census. But Tlaib dismissed the idea, saying, “It’s too late.”
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., questions Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham during a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 12, 2020.: YouTube