Racially Labeling Your Child

My family is puzzling over what racial label to pin on our children. Because of their different ethnic backgrounds, my daughter and my nephew might not be able to get into the same colleges.

Racial classifications are truly bizarre. Under affirmative action, my partly-Spanish daughter, Sarah Amy Bader, would qualify as a “Hispanic” under some government definitions, but not others, since she has ancestors from Spain, not Latin America, and her mother, while born in France, speaks Spanish and cooks Spanish recipes.

As law professor Eugene Volokh notes, some regulations define Hispanics as only people from Latin America, while others include people from Spain. (Brazilian and Portuguese people are typically excluded from the definition of Hispanic).

Since colleges don’t usually place any geographic limits on who qualifies as “Hispanic,” my daughter probably qualifies as Hispanic for purposes of college admissions. After all, white people born in Spain, like federal appellate judge Carlos Bea, are commonly referred to as Hispanic.

(I’m not Hispanic. But my daughter still has more Spanish ancestry than some of the school custodians who received job tenure and retroactive seniority under the affirmative-action consent decree in United States v. New York City Board of Education, which treated whites with no more than a quarter Spanish ancestry as being Hispanics).

Although being deemed Hispanic might help my daughter get admitted to college, I worry that classifying her as Hispanic might get her shunted into a bilingual education program in her elementary school (school districts receive more federal money for students in bilingual education programs).

My nephew Eric is half-Korean, and thus qualifies as Asian. Being Asian will be no help to him in getting admitted to most selective colleges, which give blacks and Hispanics preference over whites and Asians (even though he “looks” Asian and speaks some Korean, while my Hispanic daughter looks white).

Indeed, at some engineering and medical schools, Asians are forced to meet higher admissions standards than any other race, including whites, since college officials feel they have “too many” Asians. By contrast, a handful of law schools, like the University of Washington School of Law, give preference to Asians over whites. And some affirmative action programs give Asians preference over whites in government contracts.

I’ve opposed racial quotas in the past, and filed an amicus brief for CEI against the crude racial balancing schemes used by the Seattle and Louisville schools, which the Supreme Court struck down in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. (The brief I filed is here. Material from the brief is cited in footnote 14 of the Chief Justice’s opinion, and in footnote 30 of Justice Thomas’s concurrence).

So it’s especially disconcerting for me and my brother to have to think strategically about what race to assign our kids. Colleges continue to use race for the sake of “diversity,” with the Supreme Court’s blessing, and we have no choice but to take that into account in pursuing the best interests of our children. In a sensible world, our kids’ “diversity” would be assessed based on useful skills like their ability to speak foreign languages, not crude proxies like race.