When filling in the new U.S. Census questionnaire, you may have been startled by how much of the form was devoted to inquiring about your household's race and possible Hispanic ethnicity. The Census Bureau's obsession with race has re-ignited long-smoldering controversies over racial identity. These complex topics are of more than philosophical interest: in an era of affirmative action, the size of the racial quotas depends on the precise mechanisms used for counting races.
The big innovation in 2000 is that respondents are allowed to mark more than one race. People with parents of different races lobbied hard for this. They argued that being forced to pick just one racial identity for themselves was in effect requiring them to decide whether they loved their mother or father most.
Sounds humane and rational? But the change posed problems for the Clinton Administration's political allies in the racial quota racket. The NAACP and the like want to maintain the old Jim Crow "One Drop" rule that counted anyone with any visible sub-Saharan African background at all as black. It maximized the number of people who count as black – and thus maximized quotas for blacks.
Well, the Clinton Administration struggled with this problem for years. But only on March 9th did the Office of Management and Budget announce its solution. Still, for aficionados of Clintonian conniving and shamelessness, it was well worth the wait.
The Administration will indeed let people who are part white and part minority check two (or more) boxes. But then the government will simply ignore the white box. For use in civil rights enforcement and monitoring (i.e. in calculating quotas), the new OMB bulletin says, "Responses that combine one minority race and white are [to be] allocated to the minority race."
In effect, the Clinton Administration is telling mixed-race people: "Are you both white and another race? Did you feel traumatized by having to choose between your parents? Well, we feel your pain. You just check as many boxes as will make you feel better."
But when it comes to counting their responses, rather than, say, allocating half of one person to each race, or asking multiracials to estimate their fraction stemming from each race, the government will just tabulate them as 100% minority, same as always since the days of Jim Crow.
As Sheriff Bull Connor might have said, "Screw 'em. One drop makes 'em colored."
In fact, this counting procedure will increase the number of minorities, thus increasing quota sizes. People who are so slightly black that they identified themselves before as white, will now be counted as only being black.
For example, say Clinton-hating Republic Congressman Bob Barr decides that all the rumors about his ancestry must be true. So he checks the Black box as well as the White one. Then President Clinton, as usual, would have the last laugh: Barr would be counted as 100% black.
Further, Clinton is extending the infamous One Drop rule from blacks to other minorities- even though the One Drop theory never applied to crosses between whites and American Indians. For example, Winston Churchill is considered a classic Dead White European Male, even though he was 1/16th Iroquois. In fact, his American grandmother was a leading high society battle-ax of Gilded Age New York, London, and Paris, despite being 1/4th Indian. Today, there are a huge number of highly white Americans who are proud of being a tiny fraction American Indian. If they start romantically listing themselves as both races on the Census, the set-asides for Indians will skyrocket. Openings for whites will diminish.
The government's need to count by race has a long, sometimes sinister, yet often comic history. Affirmative action was invented to help African-Americans, but the concept has since been stretched to cover other minorities and one majority (women). Roughly 70% of the current U.S. population now qualifies for affirmative action. And several billion foreigners are potential beneficiaries – see below. Despite the financial importance of ethnicity, government bodies have made only whimsical attempts to rationalize their racial definitions. The result is endless amusement for connoisseurs of bureaucratic befuddlement:
Quotas for Immigrants. Since employers can count immigrants, no matter how new, toward meeting their government-mandated racial "goals," affirmative action encourages immigration, legal and otherwise, from most countries outside Northern Europe. (How this helps African-Americans remains obscure.)
Who is Hispanic? The official but vague Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition is: "All persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race." State and local bureaucracies have concocted more specific guidelines. For example, "Hispanic-surnamed" is popular, although blatantly sexist. A red-haired friend of mine qualifies because his father was Mexican, though his mother was Icelandic. Why should the government care which parent was which?
Another Spanish-surnamed friend of mine looks highly Irish. His name comes from a sailor in the Spanish Armada of 1588 who was shipwrecked on the coast of Ireland and taken in by his fellow Catholics. When he was a high school senior, he was besieged by letters from prestigious universities imploring him and his Spanish-surname to apply for admission.
A competing definition is "someone who grew up in a Spanish speaking household or was born in a Spanish-speaking country." This favors recent immigrants over longer-resident, English-speaking Hispanic families. It also discourages families from teaching their kids English. It would also include Spaniards like former NATO boss Javier Solano and Olympic supremo Juan-Antonio Samaranch, neither of whom seems to have suffered much from discrimination. And, finally, this rule means that Teutonic-looking immigrants from Paraguay named Klaus who don't like to talk about what their fathers were doing from 1933 to 1945 are eligible for affirmative action.
In practice, just about anybody with an imaginative lawyer has a fighting chance to be Hispanic. For example, the Federal Communications Commission awarded a sizable tax break after conceding that a radio station buyer, a Polish-born man named Liberman, was Hispanic. (Some of Senor Liberman's ancestors were Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.) In the notorious Wedtech minority set-aside scandal during the Reagan Administration, the central crook, John Mariotta, was of Italian descent and surname and was born in New York. Since his parents were born in Puerto Rico, however, his firm qualified for massive noncompetitive government contracts.
Joe Stalin, Minority. Despite their rapid progress, Asians are still favored by some hiring programs. However, since Asia sprawls from the Bering Sea to the Suez Canal, a remarkable variety of people are either currently covered or could logically demand to be classified as Asian. The EEOC presently lumps together East Asians with Pakistanis and Indians, despite the fact that almost all Indians are Caucasians. It seems doubtful that bureaucracies that consider Indian Caucasians as Asians can long resist granting favored Asian status to all Asians, including our rapidly growing Middle Eastern population. For example, the city of Pasadena, California has extended affirmative action in hiring to Armenians.
Q. Which celebrities are of Asian extraction: consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, M*A*S*H cast member Jamie Farr, the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, former White House chief of staff John Sununu, quarterback Doug Flutie, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, former California governor George Deukmejian, or former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze?
A. All of them.
Racial Purity. A blue-eyed contractor named Jon McGrath has obtained $19 million in municipal works minority subcontracts for being 1/64th Cherokee. As part of her Senate campaign, Hillary Clinton recently announced she was 1/128th black. (I have not heard her comment on whether this qualifies her for affirmative action. By the way, this followed her earlier claim, based on a rather novel Talmudic interpretation, that because her grandmother's stepfather was Jewish, therefore she was Jewish. I look forward to the First Lady revealing in a speech to the Andaman Islander Democratic Club of Queens that she is a pygmy negrito.) A recent genetic study of whites in three U.S. cities found the average proportion of black ancestry ranged between 0.5% and 1.1%. This suggests that something like a fifth of the U.S. white population has at least one black ancestor.
The Ultimate Loophole. According to the EEOC, you can belong to any protected minority with which you "identify." Since most people identify with their self-interests, anybody can plausibly claim to sincerely identify with anything. The Corsican Buonaparte, the Austrian Hitler, and the Georgian Stalin, for example, had little trouble identifying with the French, Germans, and Russians (respectively) when circumstances required.
In response to this kind of nonsense, there appears to be a growing trend to idealistically refuse to state one's race on government forms and college applications.
However, since the overwhelming fraction of non-respondents are white, as demonstrated by their average test scores invariably matching the white average, this little act of protest can have a downside that's not well understood. Quotas exist not just for protected minorities, but, in effect, for unprotected groups (i.e., whites) too. The size of this quota for the unprotected is simply 100% minus the quotas for minorities. By refusing to state their race, whites are risking lowering the number of jobs and college slots open not just to themselves, but to their children and other relatives.
That could be a high price to pay for idealism.