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Checkboxes for race and ethnicity on government forms will include more choices

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Major changes are coming to how the U.S. government asks about your race and ethnicity. And supporters say these changes could improve the accuracy of statistics about Latinos and people of Middle Eastern or North African descent. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Guillermo Creamer says one of those changes is going to solve a conundrum. On federal government forms he answers, yes, he identifies as Latino, which the government considers to be an ethnicity. And then he has to answer...

GUILLERMO CREAMER: What's your race? I genuinely don't ever know what to answer.

WANG: You see the boxes and none of them quite fit for you?

CREAMER: No because to me, you know, being Latino, that's all-encompassing for me.

WANG: Creamer will soon be able to answer a new combined question that asks about a person's race and/or ethnicity and the checkboxes under it include Hispanic or Latino. The White House's Office of Management and Budget has released an example.

CREAMER: I sent it around to my parents and other members of my family. And I was like, hey, like, finally, like, there's more than just the other for us (laughter).

WANG: And there will be a completely new checkbox for Middle Eastern or North African.

MAYA BERRY: It is progress. It is progress.

WANG: Maya Berry is the executive director of the Arab American Institute, which for more than three decades has been campaigning for this box and to change what research suggests to be an outdated policy for racially categorizing people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa - or MENA.

BERRY: Yes, no longer rendered by definition in terms of formal federal policy as exclusively white. The point is, folks can self-identify with any racial category they feel comfortable with.

WANG: Still, Berry says she is concerned that the government's new definition for Middle Eastern or North African is not inclusive enough of people who are of MENA descent and identify with Black diaspora communities. And she's worried that can affect the data that will be used to redraw voting districts, enforce civil rights and guide policymaking and research across the country.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LASZLO PROJECT'S "KYOTO RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.

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