Boston Mayoral Candidate Says She’s A Person Of Color; Is She?

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The mainstream news media bills the 2021 Boston mayoral election as the election where regardless of what happens, the winner will be the first elected woman of color mayor of Boston.

At-large city councilor Michelle Wu is an Asian-American. Her parents came to America from Taiwan, an east Asian country that is also known as the Republic of China.

The other candidate in the race, fellow at-large city councilor Annissa Essaibi George, also says that she is a minority — and the news media covers her as such. Headlines like “Boston chooses two women of color for runoff election in historic mayoral race” from The Associated Press, “2 Women of Color to Face Off in Boston Mayoral Race” from Voice of America,  and “Boston mayoral race narrows to Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, two women of color, for the city’s top job” from CNN are among the many examples of it.

However, by the standards laid out by the U.S. Census, Essaibi George’s background would make her categorically white. 

Like Wu, both of Essaibi George’s parents immigrated to the United States. However, they came from different continents. Her mother, Barbara, is Polish. She was born in a Displaced Persons’ camp in Germany in the aftermath of World War II. Barbara and her family immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, according to Essaibi George’s campaign web site. The term white on the U.S. Census encompasses peoples native to Europe, including Poland.

Essaibi George’s father is also an immigrant, from Africa. Her campaign web site also says that her father, Ezzeddine, came to the United States from Tunisia in 1972.

Tunisia, is the northernmost African country. The northern points of the country exceed 37 degrees north latitude. Those parts of Tunisia are farther north than the southernmost parts of European countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece.

So since her father is from Africa, would that make her half black? It wouldn’t — the U.S. Census Bureau also puts someone from Tunisia in the white category. 

The Census Bureau defines white as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” The Census Bureau also says that “It includes people who indicate their race as ‘White’ or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.”

Earlier this year when The Boston Globe made note that some people have questioned Essaibi George’s decision to identify as a minority, she put out a lengthy statement bashing the left-leaning daily newspaper for mentioning it:


Since The Boston Globe has determined that I do not meet their self-established definition of a person of color, and reported that ‘some’ are questioning who I am and how I show up, let me summarize: I’m a proud first generation Arab-Polish American and identify as a woman of color.

Many Arab people live in this inbetween space where our unique experiences and the discrimination we’ve faced sometimes ‘counts’ and sometimes doesn’t. But I don’t conflate my experiences with others’. Sharing my story does not mean I equate my life with, or discount, the struggles of other races and ethnicities. I’m open about how people project an identity of *their* choosing onto me — and that can be both a privilege and a burden.

Much of this conversation and argument goes back to the census and what box you check. The Obama Administration started the process of adding MENA as an option on the census and finally officially acknowledging and affirming our identity. Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration put a stop to that. But this is about so much more than checking a box once every ten years.

Let me be clear: I show up as my authentic self.

So while others continue with conversations about how to define me, my Arabness and my life experiences and what boxes to put us all in, I’ll be in Boston’s neighborhoods listening and learning from our residents and continuing to uplift their voices, honoring our diversity and putting in the hard work necessary to move our city forward.


As Essaibi George pointed out, there was no MENA (Middle Eastern/North African) category on the 2020 U.S. Census. Former President Barack Obama’s administration considered adding it as an option to the census, although it’s unclear if the administration wanted it as an ethnicity or a race.

Essaibi George is not the first Massachusetts politician to have her racial identity questioned in the past decade. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge) is another example.

Warren self-identified as Native American during her academic career, and even took a DNA test in 2018 trying to prove that she had Native American ancestry. The DNA test showed that Warren likely had somewhere between 1/64 and 1/1,012 American Indian DNA.

Unlike Warren, however, Essaibi George’s ethnicities are not in dispute — just how to define them.

Essaibi George’s campaign could not be reached for comment on Thursday.


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