Checking the Racial Box

Via Steve Sailer, the Washington Post maps the minefield that high school students navigate as they describe their racial backgrounds:

Sabria Kazmi’s background defies easy classification. She has grandparents from Tennessee, Iraq and two countries in South Asia.

So when the 18-year-old filled out her college application, she puzzled over what boxes to check. The task is all the more sensitive this year amid the mounting debate over the role of race and ethnicity in admissions.

That debate has been going on for a long time, but the Asian students’ lawsuit against Harvard has moved it to the forefront.

First, Kazmi came to white. Check. Then Asian. Check. Followed by Middle Eastern and Pakistani. Check, check. She found a blank space to write in her Bangladeshi roots.

Kazmi, a high school senior in Northern Virginia, could have gone further because one grandmother is part Cherokee. But she stopped there.

Heh. Sailer adds: “She’s not Elizabeth Warren-level greedy about getting affirmative action bennies.”

Officials at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Va., helped The Post convene them for a 90-minute focus group on race and admissions. The seniors, all aiming for selective colleges, held strong and sometimes clashing views.

Wenxi Huang, 17, confessed to an “itching, nagging feeling” when he checked the box on his application indicating Asian ancestry. The Chinese American student felt the information should be irrelevant in admission decisions. “I just want to live in a country where my race doesn’t matter,” he said. “Where I’m never judged or picked or excluded for my race.”

He’s right to be worried. His Asian ancestry will hurt him. But not all students share his yearning for a racism-free America.

Jennifer Hernández, also 17, a Salvadoran American, wants colleges to take race and ethnicity into account.

Of course she does.

Her Hispanic identity “is something that makes me who I am,” she said. “It adds to my character and adds to my personality.”

She has been taught to believe that and has no hesitation about expressing the view that her “Hispanic identity” entitles her to preferential treatment. Thought experiment: “My white identity is something that makes me who I am. It adds to my character and adds to my personality.” How do you think that would go over with college admissions officials?

The high school where this focus group took place does not consider race in its application process, and around 70% of its students are Asian.

[M]any selective colleges do [treat applicants differently based on race] — and they want as much detail as they can get.

… For example, users who identified as Hispanic or Latino could then click one or more boxes from a menu of Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, Central America or South America. Or they could fill in a blank to give another answer.

Sailer comments, “Don’t check Cuban, I hear.” I think that is correct. Cuban-Americans fled Communism and still tend to vote Republican.

Ethan Phillips, 17, a TJ senior, said he paused briefly on the race question and consulted with his parents. He had heard speculation that identifying as white could have “a negative effect on the rest of the application.”

Phillips considered whether he could, or should, note his family’s Irish immigrant heritage. “My parents and grandparents came from farmers and blue-collar workers in Missouri,” he said. “That’s part of my story.” But there didn’t seem to be an easy way to indicate all of that. He checked the “white” box and moved on.

The Irish are oppressors now.

Sebastián Ibarrarán, 17, the son of Mexican immigrants, said race and ethnicity remain crucial for understanding the background of applicants, regardless of family income.

Really? Why?

Ibarrarán said he often senses put-downs from people who believe he doesn’t have to try as hard as his peers to get into top colleges, that his SAT scores don’t have to be quite as high to make the cut. “Not only is that really hard,” he said, “but it’s also false because these colleges, they actually see a lot more than you think they see.”

I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, but if this student is trying to deny that affirmative action means lower standards are applied to some groups, he is denying the obvious.

Hernández said similar experiences shape her views. She grew emotional as she recalled the “differences in expectations” that she has faced while growing up as a Hispanic student accepted into a highly competitive public high school. She said she has endured taunts about the likelihood of her becoming a teen mom before becoming a scientist. (For the record, she is not a mother.) There are those, she said, “who think you got here because you didn’t earn it. Even though you did. You worked hard — maybe even twice as hard, maybe three times as hard, to get where you are. But it’s never acknowledged.”

If I understand Miss Hernandez correctly, she is complaining that affirmative action creates an environment where many people assume that if you are a member of a favored group (in her case, Hispanic) you likely haven’t been held to the same standards as members of non-favored groups (i.e., Asians and whites). This is a pretty good argument against race discrimination in school admissions, and employment, too, but that apparently isn’t the inference Miss Hernandez wants us to draw.

Given our increasingly complicated racial landscape, the entire corrupt and irrational edifice of affirmative action seems destined to collapse. It can’t happen too soon.

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