"But students can now choose from a menu of new boxes of racial and ethnic categories — because the Department of Education started requiring universities this past school year to comply with a broad federal edict to collect more information about race and ethnicity. The change has made it easier for students to claim a multiracial identity — highlighting those parts of their backgrounds they might want to bring to the fore and disregarding others, as Ms. Scott considered doing with her Asian heritage.The racial state is a bureaucracy. Like any other arrangement of power it has a set of rules and expectations that can be navigated, manipulated, and little cracks found to slip over or through. When race, a social construct that is a true lie, a fiction that is real, fixed, and also simultaneously changing is added to the mix, the bureaucratic game can both be simplified ("no blacks need apply") as well as made more complex (colorblind but still color conscious, where last hired means first fired). In theory, the bureaucracy is also supposed to be a consistent set of fixed rules where efficiency and fairness reigns, and the old world customs of patronage and noblesse oblige do not apply.
So the number of applicants who identify themselves as multiracial has mushroomed, adding another layer of anxiety, soul- (and family-tree-) searching and even gamesmanship to the process."
As The New York Times' "On College Applications a Question of Race or Races can Perplex" explores, the coloured class/middle races seem particularly adept at playing the college admissions game to their advantage. Given that one of the driving impetuses behind the mixed race movement is a desire to claim some sort of white privilege, such leverage makes a great deal of sense in practice.
For outsiders and those not privy to the inner workings of the college admissions process (or how fellowships and other goodies are dolled out) the article in The Times would seem to justify the very unfair--and what on the face of seems very unseemly--role that race plays in how colleges decide who to admit and what types of financial aid and scholarships to award.
For the layperson who is drunk on some half-digested, misunderstanding of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech," the fact that a student must decide which race to emphasize or identify with on a college application seems to clearly disadvantage white applicants.
Moreover, for the disingenuous Ward Connerly bottom feeding types of the political ecosystem, the idea that race matters is one more reason to jettison the whole racial bureaucracy and live a life of colorblind fiction and fantasy. The bottom line of their objections is at its heart a simple one: white folks are somehow losing out in college admissions--and good, hard working white students (and in some circles those "model minority" Asian-Americans) who did everything "right" even more so.
This is untrue for a variety of reasons. First, college admissions are based on a number of variables. And as recent research has found, being the relative of a donor or an alumni with money counts much more than any other factor (once more to the wages of Whiteness). The other issue is the nebulous category of how a given student is deemed "qualified" for a given school (and if they are then going to be offered a seat).
Many Sam and Susy snowflakes believe that they "deserve" to be admitted to a given (elite) institution and that they "earned" it. Sorry to break it to you Sam and Susy Snowflake: the college admissions process does not work that way.
SATs are weak tools for predicting college success beyond the freshmen year. Moreover, the more important goal is how to best assemble a diverse and compelling class of students who can be successful at a given institution. Where everyone is more or less qualified, intangibles carry a great amount of weight.
To point: a working class kid who held 2 jobs and managed a 1100 on her SATs is far more compelling than an upper class kid who had tutors and access to all sorts of support and then proceeds to only score a 1300. A kid from the 'res, or rural Appalachia, or the South Bronx, or a Latino from rural Texas with similar (or even lower) scores is more compelling to many college admissions committees.
Granting all of those realities does not mean that the college admissions process should not be modified. Where race matters it can also be gamed and manipulated. In my time I have seen many versions of the race hustle at work in the college and university admissions process. Here are some of the cons in the "check off your race box game" that I have either witnessed directly or heard about:
- The rich student from North Africa who decides to identify as "African-American" because they are from the continent of Africa.
- The white students who check off African-American because human life began on that continent (and they will provide their own DNA tests to prove it...and sue if they do not get admitted).
- The white South African who checks off African-American. Riddle me that one.
- The student who claims a black/Hispanic/Native American/Asian relative some two or three generations ago (and whose heritage they do not honor or identify with) in order to get some imagined advantage.
- The mixed race student who lives and identifies as a white person, but wants to see what they can "get" for being something other than White. Said student gets admitted, is invited to the multicultural student weekend and never shows up, and lives the rest of their college tenure counted in a database as a student of color...always being sure to quickly throw out any mail they get from the Office of Multicultural Relations lest their friends find out they are not a full blooded WASP.
- The African or Caribbean student who feels no affinity for Black Americans, is admitted on grounds of "diversity" as an "African American," and then makes sure to maintain as much distance as possible from said group.
As The New York Times points out, college administrators and faculty are participants in the racial bureaucracy. They can decide to enable the race hustle. The same personnel can also choose to stand firm on their principles as they work to match up both the spirit and the letter of the law in a long game which sees sincere diversity in colleges and universities as a net gain for all students.
On that point, and in the best spirit of the Notorious B.I.G., I got a story to tell.
In a previous life, I worked on two rather prestigious fellowship and summer training programs for undergraduate students. In that capacity I had to decide who to admit, who to late list, and who to reject outright. These programs were targeted at students from a very specific socio-economic and racial background, groups which were/are grossly under-represented in graduate and professional programs.
One of my easiest criteria for making the first cut was a simple one: Does the applicant meet the admissions criteria? As a standing rule, I would put any application which checked off "other" as their racial identity in the "to be looked at later" file. If an applicant wrote in their own label (Tiger Woods's "Canablasian" for example) or came up with some crazy, bizarre, race hustle identity such as "white, African-American, Polynesian, Native American, whose third Aunt was from Brazil" I smiled and put it in the "down the memory well" circular file.
These choices were made as much on principle--these programs were targeted at students with some sense of linked fate, shared history with, and membership in, a racially disadvantaged group in this country--as for efficiency. To this day, I do not feel that I did anything either inappropriate, or outside of the programmatic rules I strictly adhered to in my role as a gatekeeper in the racial bureaucracy.
Apparently, I was not alone. There are annual meetings which the staff and faculty of these fellowship programs are obligated to attend. In one of the training sessions these very questions came up. How do you categorize mixed race applicants? Do students who check off "other" count? Are they eligible?
I volunteered my rubric. Half the room responded as the Amen! chorus and shared that they too use a similar set of rules. The other half of the room was visibly angry and upset, that this was somehow unfair and penalized students who may identify as white or have a "mixed" background.
Triumphantly, I quoted the regulations governing the fellowship program verbatim. Folks smiled. Others sneered. Talk about a moment where I cut some heads in the best jazz improv session sense.
Thus the paradox of life in the Age of Obama and colorblind, multicultural America: Long live the racial bureaucracy! Down with the racial bureaucracy!