NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - When it comes to COVID data, many in the local Kurdish community say they are not represented. There’s nothing listed for The Middle Eastern/North African or "Mena" community and it’s something community leaders want to see change.
At House of Kabob off W. Thompson Lane, the aroma of Kurdish cuisine fills the air. It is another example of the community's constantly growing population in Nashville.
"It's projected to be around 20,000 Kurds," Effendi Foundation Executive Director Wan Rashid said.
But when Kurds look for their identity, whether it's on the census or even on COVID-19 data throughout the state, their ethnic background isn't listed.
"I would like to identify as MENA. I think if I do that. It would give us some better information in regards to our community. And the way that we handle COVID internally. But the issue, I identify as White," Rashid said. "I think it's very detrimental because when we think about data, we don't think about how data can easily be skewed."
For many Kurds and the Middle Eastern Community, getting official recognition as Middle Eastern North African or MENA, on national data has been a battle for years. Especially during the height of the pandemic.
It's an issue Dr. Zaid Brifkani notices all the time and one that he said has far-reaching effects.
"When we're looking at different communities, we will see that certain factors, health, literacy play a big role. Also, different resources are available to different communities," Brifkani said. "All these elements of healthcare must be taken into consideration when we are looking at how certain health issues and problems present themselves in certain communities."
To find out if this can change, News4 Investigates reached out to Metro Health, the State Health Department, Governor Bill Lee's office, and the US Census Bureau.
"We have had very long conversations about how we capture our demographics," Leslie Waller, Epidemiologist with the Metro Health Department, said. "Particularly race and ethnicity with all of our COVID data and really all of our infectious disease data."
Waller said she knows it's essential to capture that data and make sure that all ethnic groups are known but said it's a challenge.
"It is part of a very large system, and it is a complex system, and it is not one that is very easily fixed overnight," Waller said. "It does take quite a bit of coordination, and it takes a lot of trying and testing of methodologies too. So, it is something that is more difficult than one might think to just make that change."
Until they're identified officially on data and paper, Rasid said he would continue the fight.
"I think it's important for everyone to be represented, and it's really important for us to understand our communities," Rasid said. "And the only way that can happen is with fair representation, and that starts with change may be at the local and state level."
News 4 reached out to the State Health Department and received the following statement:
Officials with the US Census Bureau told News 4 they collect race data according to the 1997 Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity directed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau, and all other federal statistical agencies, must adhere to the 1997 OMB Standards.
The 1997 OMB Standards define "White" as a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
Census officials say it will ultimately be up to OMB to determine if the MENA category will be a minimum reporting category distinct from the White category. OMB is currently conducting a review of these standards. It will be OMB's decision on whether or not MENA will become a new minimum reporting category outside of a White category.
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