George Will finds the timing of the Court’s affirmative action decisions “serendipitous” as well as “anachronistic”:

On the eve of the Supreme Court’s rulings regarding the University of Michigan’s two systems of racial preferences, for undergraduate and law school applicants, the Census Bureau reported that Hispanics have supplanted African Americans as the nation’s largest minority.

The rulings effectively say universities can use some sorts of judicially monitored racial preferences forever. But demographic facts say race is rapidly becoming more and more irrational — indeed, unintelligible — as a basis for government actions.

Since the court’s 1978 Bakke decision, it has been constitutional law that “diversity” is a “compelling” reason for institutions of higher education to give some weight in admissions decisions to members of such races as the institutions decide to prefer. Michigan prefers Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans.

Michigan either does not believe that — to take just three examples — Asian Americans, Arab Americans and Polish Americans contribute “diversity” that is useful to the educational experience of all, or Michigan believes that Asian Americans, Arab Americans and Polish Americans add valuable diversity but can earn admission in sufficient numbers to make preferential treatment unnecessary.

If Michigan’s belief is the former, if should explain what it means by valuable diversity. If Michigan believes the latter, it believes that the minorities for which it reserves preferential treatment need to be regarded as handicapped, and hence wards of the state, perhaps forever.

An interesting point. Historically, affirmative action programs were designed to “remedy past discrimination,” which explains why Arabs and others aren’t covered. But if the rationale shifts to “diversity,” the more obscure the group, the better, one would think.

Moreover, the politics of race are getting increasingly complicated:

But America’s fast-unfolding future will outrun the capacity of litigation to stay pertinent. What are called “race-conscious” remedies for social problems are going to seem increasingly problematic because race and ethnicity are increasingly understood to be not fixed but extremely fluid, hence dubious, scientific categories.

African Americans include descendants of African slaves, recent voluntary immigrants from Africa — and from the Caribbean. The single category “Hispanic” sweeps together such very different groups as Cuban Americans, Dominican Americans, Guatemalan Americans, Salvadoran Americans, Mexican Americans. And immigrants from Argentina — but not from Brazil.

Rapidly rising rates of intermarriage further the wholesome blurring of the picture of the nation. So does the fact that many Hispanics — and Arab Americans — chose “white” or “other” when asked to pick from among the 63 categories on the 2000 census form.

Call this the Tigerization of America, if you will. Tiger Woods is thought of as “black” because he has brownish skin and Americans are conditioned to view people who look like him as African American. But his mother is 100% Thai and his father is racially mixed, including some Asian heritage. So, if anything, Woods should be characterized as “Asian.” One wonders what box he checks on government forms.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Nick says:

    Woods doesn’t even look black to me- he looks like a Pacific Islander. When he goes to Thailand, they claim him as a Thai, a native son national hero.

    I’ve often encouraged all of my friends to check “black” anytime they are filling out any government form which might help them. They’ll either A)Get the benefits of being black, or B)Get to take the case public if the government questions them. It’s win/win.