NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – When it comes to COVID data, many members of the local Kurdish community say they are not represented. There is nothing listed for the Middle East / North African community or “MENA” and it is something that community leaders want to see changed.
At the House of Kabob on W. Thompson Lane, the aroma of Kurdish cuisine fills the air. This is another example of the steadily growing population of the community in Nashville.
“It is expected that there will be around 20,000 Kurds,” said the executive director of the Effendi Foundation, Wan Rashid.
But when Kurds search for their identity, whether it’s on the census or even on statewide COVID-19 data, their ethnicity is not listed.
“I would like to identify as a UM. I think if I did. It would give us better information about our community. And how we deal with COVID internally. But the problem, I identify as White “said Rashid. . “I think it’s very damaging because when we think about data, we don’t think about how easily the data can be skewed.”
For many Kurds and the Middle Eastern community, gaining official recognition as a North African Middle East, or MENA, on national data has been a battle for years. Especially at the height of the pandemic.
This is a problem that Dr Zaid Brifkani notices all the time and which he says has far-reaching effects.
“When we look at different communities, we will see that certain factors, health, literacy play an important role. In addition, different resources are available for different communities,” Brifkani said. “All of these elements of health care need to be taken into account when we look at how certain health problems and issues present themselves in certain communities.”
To find out if that may change, News4 Investigates contacted Metro Health, the State Health Department, Governor Bill Lee’s office, and the US Census Bureau.
“We’ve had really long conversations about how we capture our demographics,” said Leslie Waller, epidemiologist at the Metro Health Department. “Specifically race and ethnicity with all of our COVID data and really all of our infectious disease data.”
Waller said she knew it was essential to capture this data and make sure all ethnic groups were known, but said it was a challenge.
“It’s part of a very large system, and it’s a complex system, and it’s not a system that heals very easily overnight,” Waller said. “It takes a bit of coordination, and it also takes a lot of testing and methodological testing. So it’s something more difficult than you might think to just make this change.”
Until they are officially identified on data and on paper, Rasid said he would continue the fight.
“I think it’s important that everyone is represented, and it’s really important for us to understand our communities,” said Rasid. “And the only way that can happen is with fair representation, and it starts with change can be at the local and state level.”
News 4 contacted the State Department of Health and received the following statement:
US Census Bureau officials told News 4 that they collect race data according to the 1997 standards for maintaining, collecting and reporting federal data on race and ethnicity led by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau and all other federal statistical agencies must adhere to the OMB 1997 standards.
The OMB 1997 standards define “White” as a person with origins in one of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.
Census officials say it will ultimately be up to the OMB to determine whether the MENA category will be a separate minimum reporting category from the white category. OMB is currently reviewing these standards. It will be up to the OMB to decide whether or not the MENA region will become a new minimum reporting category outside of a white category.
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