San Francisco Recognizes Arab Americans as a Minority Group
San Francisco Recognizes Arab Americans as a Minority Group New Ordinance Applies Affirmative Action Provisions to Arab Americans
On October 5, 1998 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a new Minority, Women and Local Business Ordinance (Chapter 12 D of the San
Francisco Administrative Code), which recognizes the Arab-American community as a legal minority class afforded all the rights and benefits available to other traditional minorities under the City’s contracting ordinance. This unprecedented and historic piece of legislation, which was unanimously supported by the Board of Supervisors and strongly backed by Mayor Willie L. Brown, becomes effective on November 4, 1998.
This is the first time that a major city has included Arab Americans as an
officially recognized minority group for purposes of affirmative action. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) served as a support group at all levels to the local activists of the Arab American Affirmative Action Steering Committee who were responsible for this tremendous achievement.
San Francisco spends over 2 billion contracting dollars ($2,000,000,000.00) in areas such as construction; engineering; real estate development, management & appraisal; architecture; catering; office services; general supplies; janitorial services; security services; landscape services; carpeting; painting; acquisition of appliances; construction materiels and child care management services. In addition, the City contracts out legal services and retains attorneys specializing in the following areas: bond counsel; real estate law; unlawful detainers; environmental law and personal injury. In fact, virtually any business Arab-Americans are involve with could be utilized by government agencies.
For many years ADC has been working to achieve official recognition of the
Arab American identity by federal, state and local governments. ADC has
repeatedly pointed out that, within the broader American society, over 3 million Arab Americans comprise a distinct ethnic group which is not identifiable under most current classifications. ADC has argued that Arab
Americans, like Hispanics, are an ethnic group of mixed race bound by a
common language and culture.
Time and again Arab Americans have been ignored by the governmental
institutions mandated to help minorities in the United States. Yet Arab
Americans have faced a pattern of historical discrimination, and the growing number of Arab immigrants to the United States face many of the same problems that confront immigrants from Asia and Latin America.
ADC welcomes this historic step taken by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It ought to serve as a model for other local, state and federal governments to recognize Arab Americans as a legal minority class and distinct ethnic group.
What made this achievement possible was the dedication and tenacity of the
local San Francisco activists who worked on this issue. Arab Americans and others concerned about civil rights should use the San Francisco experience as a basis, and the San Francisco ordinance as a model, for similar measures in their own communities. It is important to note that in San Francisco, the Arab American community did not reach the usual minimum of 3 percent of the population which has generally been required for this kind of affirmative action protection. Local activists were able to persuasively argue that, due to the distinctiveness of Arab Americans on ethnic, cultural, and historical grounds, they are entitled to such protection. These arguments and this approach to gaining legal minority status for Arab Americans should serve as a model for activists in other communities. Now that a precedent has been set in San Francisco, it is time to make sure that legal protections such as these spread throughout the country. ADC is eager to work with local activists anywhere in the United States to help gain legal minority status recognition for Arab Americans.
For further information please contact the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.