Cythia Tucker once accused Michael Steele, then Chair of the Republican National Committee, of being an “affirmative action hire gone bad,” and almost no one from civil rights organizations, liberal social justice groups, or the “left” objected. Because Cynthia Tucker was a prominent liberal columnist who is black, and she was attacking a Republican who is black, the column passed without much controversy.
The key thing was that Tucker used the term “affirmative action” as a derogatory epithet, not a positive. That’s what it’s come to even from liberal black columists.
First, what exactly is race today in America in which intermarriage and immigration have increasingly made it — and its ugly twin racial purity — often irrelevant? We are no longer a country largely 85-90% “white” and 10-12% “black,” but something almost hard to categorize in racial terms. Do university admission officers adopt the 1/16, one-drop racial rule of the old Confederacy? Does being one fourth African-American qualify one for consideration; three-fourths Japanese; half Mexican-American? Does a simple surname add — and often by intent — authenticity and credulity? The son of Linda Hernandez and Jason Smith — a Bobby Smith — is not considered, without genealogical investigation, Hispanic, but the son of Linda Smith and Jason Hernandez — a Roberto Hernandez of equal 50/50 ancestry — is almost instantly? If so, is race a state of mind and personal choice more than circumstances of birth? What exactly is white and what a minority — a dark-skinned Armenian-American is the former, a light-skinned Colombian American is the latter? A dark Sicilian-American is white, Barack Obama is black?
We are reaching the point in a multiracial and intermarried America where admissions officers and employers simply would have to hire British genealogists to trace our bloodlines — and instead, in millions of cases, therefore resort ad hoc to what Americans profess or think they are.
Although not addressing affirmative action, Ta-Nehisi Coates comes to the following conclusion, after studying the history of black confederates:
I’ve spent much of my adult life studying various theories of race and racism, and the last few years in a rather intensive mode of study. In all of that time one inescapable conclusion has dogged me: Race is such bullshit.
In my prior post, Why Don’t We Just Stop Counting?, I noted the difficulty that governmental entities had in classifying people by race given intermarriage, and I suggested
Our system of racial and ethnic categorization is outdated and now serves a negative purpose. Get rid of it.
Some ideas outlive their utility as blunt social instruments. Affirmative action as a generic tool to address the history of racial discrimination is one of those blunt instruments.