Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Doing the Race Hustle: How "Mixed Race" Students Game the College Admissions Process

"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.

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."
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.

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!


annum natalem said...

I'm not too honest to game the system! As a halfrican poor person and an anarchist in my youth, I will gladly game the State for whatever vittles they'll spout for me! Beats havin' to pay for it! Besides, the State raised me, so it's just like goin' to my Moms for help, right?

annum natalem said...

Learning how to game the system must be an education in itself... I honestly wish I knew how to do it.

Plane Ideas said...

When I was in College at a Big Ten University we had Black Residential Aides in the dorms..It was awesome within 2 years after my graduation ( BTW we had the highest Black graduation rate ever) the Black Aides became Minority Aides and the graduation rate never matched my cohort era.. The racial machine erased our footprints!!!!

Not only does RACE still Trump everything in America ( Quite often a designated amount of admission slots are open for non-white students instead of expanding these slots we have colored folks eliminating each other from the model minorities asians to the new coloreds hispanics)..

One day will these other people of color actually say thank you for their piggy back ride on our Black arses...????

In the end Black folks remain at the bottom of the well..WTF

Anonymous said...

I'm a community college student, and I've often wondered how to mark down my race on forms and whathaveyou. One of my parents is white and my other parent is black, but I myself am pale enough that people consistently see me as white. A couple of times, as I was filling out the forms, I was about to mark it as 'white' and leave it at that, but then I wonder what my family would think. My father taught me as a child to be proud to be black, and it was only later that I found out that nobody sees me as black.

In day-to-day life, because of the privilege I enjoy because of my skin color, I see that I often glide effortlessly through the invisible nets that entangle people of color. I'm still trying to accept what my multicultural studies prof told me, which is that I'm white. I feel especially foolish, because I've always had a chuckle who say things like, "I'm not white, my family is from Italy" or some other White Ethnic nonsense.

That being said, I have never denied that I am a biracial person. I haven't tried to ignore who I am in order to 'fit in'. I've had a lot of problems with white friends because of things that they have said or done regarding race, and I've had to leave more than a few friends because of it. Sometimes it seems easier to just shut up and ignore it, but then I feel ashamed because I realize that wouldn't be an option for my father, or my sister, or my cousins.

I don't have any desire to 'game' anyone, my main concern is being honest to myself and my past and my family. I honestly don't know what to do. Until I figure it out, I'll continue to check both 'Whit/Caucasian' and 'Black/African-American'.

(P.S. When I was in elementary school, I was upset to learn that my race/ethnicity was listed as 'other', because their rules precluded checking only one box. It seemed to me, at that time, like the very existence of multiracial people was being denied, as if it was impossible for people from the categories that the boxes represented to have children together. So this has been an old fight for me, and not just when I reached college.)

annum natalem said...

Anonymous, you sound like my kid. He's what would be considered in the slave days an "octoroon", and he's pale like white people. Touch his hair, be in his family, you know he's black, but he could walk through a Klan meeting without ruffling a robe. He came from my body; he'd be considered black enough to be enslaved a couple hundred years ago.

But I hear you. Your "black experience" isn't the same as a dark skinned black person's experience. Mine neither. My dad was half native, half black, black enough to cause a ruckus when he slept with a white girl back in the day and had to leave town because of it. His was probably what general society would consider to be the last person in our lineage to have the "authentic" black experience.

But I submit to you. Yours is a black experience too. No matter how white you think you look.

p.s. Believe it or not, darker skinned black people are better at telling our "near" brethren than they, or white people are.

Plane Ideas said...

Is it not true that 98% of Black folks in America are Bi-Racial?? Why do we now have a new bandwidth of Bi-Racial people?

Clearly they are seeking some privledge or space that negates their connection with darked skinned Black folks or Black Folks who have two Black parents who don't have a white parent but clearly are not 100% Black Blue Blooded folks from the motherland( this is the slang we used in the 60's)..

Colorism has surfaced again like 'Negrophobia'..Why? What is creating this new focus on being "mixed" "bi-racial" etc..??

Please educate an old gangsta???

chaunceydevega said...

@Thrasher. Educate an older brother. You are the teacher. More seriously I don't "get" the whole biracial mixed race movement/concept etc. Race is a fiction. Blacks folks are a mulatto people by definition. So why try to carve our some special status. You can be a black person with a white mom or white dad. You are still black. No less so.

This is very complicated because it is where a personal choice meets how society categorizes you. Moreover, their are some books and articles on this, but it seems that the driving force behind the mixed race census movement is white women where the partner who is "raced" is not present. There is actually a quote I read where a white mother of a black child basically said that her kid should get something for being part white. Seriously.

@Fictional. You are not honest. You mulattas are tricksters by definition.

@Anon. You got to walk your own path and negotiate it in a way that preserves your dignity and personhood. As fictional said, you are no less black. We did a whole list of mixed race black folks who were proud to be black years ago on this site. Maybe I will resurrect it.

Hank Nasty said...

Given the stakes (an alleged leg-up in life) for being admitted to a good college I'm not surprised people game the system, potentially at the expense of their own integrity. Maybe the whole thing should be turned into some kind of lottery. Provided you meet the relevant tangible criteria you have a 1/n chance of gaining admittance. Seems the fairest way to me.

Plane Ideas said...


My thoughts:

Of late in many progressive venues the notion of race is now given a status of fiction and race does not exist, yada, yada, yada....What drives this new movement to distance and quash the notion of race?

Tell that to old Black folks who did not have the luxury to muse and be nuanced and create new defined notions of 'race'

America is still trapped by it's 'one drop rule' legacy and as such no new age paradigm which defines race has much currency unless of course you are part of this new age bi-racial movement or academica, chatter class bandwidth..

Colorism is an extension of white supremacy so is this new bi-racial movement ..These notions exist because of the culture of white supremacy it has a long shelf life and it is like a pathogen capable of morphing and adapting to new hosts and venues but always having lethal properties..

What is interesting about the new bi-racial themes and noise of today is how these folks seek to distance themselves from Blackness as if Blackness is an adverse variable in thier racial mix of being bi-racial..Most of the chatter is I want my whiteness to be validated and inventoried jut like the example you gave about the white mother who wanted points for being white!

Of course once again the dark skinned negroes with basic Black negroid features will be on the outside looking in the window wondering what the fuck has changed....i.e. Enter the Obama Era

Plane Ideas said...

One other note in the Obama Era.. The narrative that RACE is a fiction and the bi-racial status is a new movement has currency...Of course because of his dna signature Obama gives credibility and legitimacy to this new 'one drop white rule movement" ....Obama's failure to enbrace a Black Agenda is part of this paradigm ( We have discuss parts of this here on WARN)..

It is twisted and surreal observing the formation of the 'one drop white rule movement"..Again the example offered up by CD regarding the white mother who wanted points for her kid's whiteness is evidence of this nonsense...

The shelflife of whiteness continues to plague our nation even in 2011

Abstentus said...

I've said it before and I will say it again (in brief, not repeating the whole opera,) one size does not fit all.

My black American Experience is different that the typical Af.Am. But only so much. For ex. my dad (Chauncey did you see that post I made about the Korean Black Rangers) sorta had a choice with the Army to be considered "black." However back in the late 1940's doing training in Georgia and North Carolina, Bubba did not give him any choice. And any good Bubba worth his beer belly can usually tell an octoroon from a quadroon (at least, back in the day.)

I'm going with some new spin if not facts here. Bob Marley wrote his song,"400 Years." My family's song, should I ever write it, is "500 Years." Shit. I had ancestors enslaved by (mostly, as them Porta-gees were far from lilly white back in the day)white Euro Trash slavers before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, most likely. But hey. I am not white enough to pass. That's for sure.

I might have slipped into one of dem old line New Orleans gene de couleur clubs, depending on the shade of the paper bag. But hanging out in the Irish Channel would have been evidence of a death wish. Know what I mean?

Abstentus said...

In a similar vein, I am thinking of this . . . I want to say awkward, but that's not the right word. That word does not exist in Angles yet. But there was me, this one woman who's dad was black and her mom white from Canada, and the other had her bachelors from one Ivy, and her JD from another Ivy, and the conversation got to the point (Not by me) to that line . . . but he/she/they are not really black.

And any number of observers would have called all our bougie not very dark asses out! This pathology in America is so deep it can have us not white enough folk making judgments on others. That's how bad that stuff is still.

Oh Crap said...


Is it not true that 98% of Black folks in America are Bi-Racial??

Bi, and in many cases, tri. The people who crack me up are the ones like the Seminole and Cherokee Nations, weeding people out based on 19th c. fictional blood quantums from the Dawes Rolls.

Somebody shreiking at me they are FULL BLOODED, I ask them how they know and get nothing but blanks.

People and their purity/contamination anxiety, feh.

fred c said...

Dear Anonymous out at the Community College:

I hope that you're still checking in. Your situation is far from unique in America, it's playing out in a branch of my own blended family as we speak. One thing that I want you to know: you sound like a good kid, and I'm sure that if you always do what you think is right, you'll be fine. So my advice is to take it all one step at a time. If something feels like the right thing to do, do it, based upon your own conscience, even if you are a little worried about what people will think. Life is hard, little brother, take all of the advantage that you can get. If something feels wrong to you, stand back.

Like I say, you sound like you've got your head screwed on okay, just let your conscience be your guide.

fred c said...

And Professor, don't forget the totally Anglo-American White people whose family names happen to be Hispanic, even though their families have lived in non-Hispanic European countries for many hundreds of years, and may never have been in any way Hispanic to begin with. That's a good one, and it works every time.

chaunceydevega said...

@Hank. That would deflate too many snowflakes. You mean that they can't do everything and anything they want on a whim? That they can actually fail?

@Thrasher. There is a whole conversation to be had on how the idea of race as a social construct has been twisted, abused, and made into something not originally intended.

@Abstentus. Now you are scaring me. We could be related...small world.

@OhCrap. Don't even get started on what the Pequots are up to on that point, or that tribe that wants to get identified in New Jersey (I believe) but folks say they are just a bunch of black con artists who can't possibly be native americans.

@Fred. That is a great an obvious one. Those argentinians and others who are white with tons of money who also game the system by coming up with some narrative of oppression and exclusion.

@Dr. You hit it on the head. We can talk in aggregates and generalities but there are individual stories behind these choices. As someone without kids I defer to you, how do you decide what to do?

My rule would to be a good parent first, and part of being a good parent it equipping your child with the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional armor to navigate the world as a person of color. Some of the saddest souls I have encountered are those mixed race kids who are overly white identified and then realize that race is real and they are not special. The complexion is not always a protection. They can seem so broken.

My rule, as I almost married someone who was not black and she and I had to really discuss this, is that our child is black, and their humanity as a person is not denied by the fact that their mom is not.

Thus, they are a black person whose mom happens to be asian/white/native/indigenous, etc.

Plane Ideas said...


Great Advice..BTW my parents are orinocle indians( from venezuela)& black seminoles quite often the mixed is without any vanilla..

This new movement to validate the "whitness" of the mixed fraction still troubles me..

Enjoy the weekend.

Oh Crap said...

My amother's family is also part Black Seminole and my afather's, part Cherokee (this is adopted family, but we would have to tell people I'm adopted, as no one would ever guess. I look like both families.)

So yeah, this entire conversation makes me laugh on a lot of levels. People think they know so much.


Don't even get started on what the Pequots are up to on that point, or that tribe that wants to get identified in New Jersey (I believe) but folks say they are just a bunch of black con artists who can't possibly be native americans.

More ignorants, who obviously don't know, and have never known any black folks.

My favorites are the types who think all of a sudden we want to be Indians either out of hatred of being Black (their own projection) or because we're after all that casino money. /eyeroll

Tribal/Indian Country politics is dizzying enough, just between the BIA, termination, state recognition and federal recognition. Then enter everyone's race and anti-Black hangups and the nausea never ends.

Plane Ideas said...

@ Oh Crap,

Yeah shit is often funny after the,lol,lol