As the Supreme Court makes another foray into the mess of confusing and contradictory rulings over the constitutionality of race-based college admissions, one has to wonder how much longer such divisive policies can hang on. The recently argued Fisher v. University of Texas case, now in deliberations with a ruling not expected for months, could yet be the final nail in affirmative action’s coffin. But if history is any guide, a divided court will leave enough wiggle room to allow college admissions officers determined to pursue “diversity” at any cost a way to do so.
Which raises the questions: How did a set of “temporary measures to level the playing field” become a permanent entitlement advantaging even minorities from wealthy backgrounds over white kids who grew up in poverty? Are ordinary citizens really powerless to bring the era of reverse discrimination, now entering its sixth decade, to a close? Most importantly, how can citizen activists help fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream that all our children will “be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?”
A possible answer comes from a most unusual source, a U.S. Senate candidate who has made quite a name for herself as the poster child of affirmative action fraud. Running on a platform that calls for more regulation, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Elizabeth Warren admitted checking the “Native American” box when she applied for a faculty position at Harvard Law School.
We will never know whether her minority status contributed to her winning a job at a university under intense pressure to diversify its faculty. That is so because Warren refuses to give Harvard permission to release her records. But in the rough and tumble of a hotly contested Massachusetts senate election, opposition research revealed that there is no basis whatsoever in her Native American ancestry claim, notwithstanding her “high cheek bones” and her grandma’s fanciful stories.
Like so many things we take for granted, race is a social construct. The genetic and biologic similarities uniting all people far outweigh cosmetic factors like hair texture, skin color, and epicanthic eye folds. Nor does the mixed ancestry of most Americans simplify the problem. Is a person with one minority grandparent a minority? How about one great-grandparent? Would saving affirmative action require the resurrection of discredited terms like quadroon and octoroon?
Dozens of the forms that we routinely fill out—college, job, and mortgage applications; census questionnaires; opinion polls; and many others—inquire about our race. Our answers can only be based on self-identification. Suppose enough of us chose to adopt the Warren standard? After all, every human being has ancestors that came from Africa, however remote. Who’s to say we don’t identify with them?
And therein lies the fastest way to put an end to affirmative action without relying on the courts or the ballot box. If, say, 10 percent of Americans regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin “checked the box” on every form we filled out, race data would soon be rendered useless. Go ahead and dare affirmative action advocates to pass a law making it illegal to falsely self-identify with a protected minority group. This would require scientifically defining race, which they cannot do. If challenged, just stick out your cheekbones like the good professor and insist that your grandma told you stories. What are they going to do?
The rule of law rests on the consent of the governed in two ways. The first is through government institutions administered by our elected representatives. The second is through our personal choices and behavior. Remember, it was brave civil rights advocates and their acts of civil disobedience that put an end to heinous Jim Crow laws. It took a great deal of courage to face down axe handles and fire hoses. How much courage does it take to check the box?
Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.