Sunday, November 09, 2003

Why Affirmative Action isn't a Long Term Solution

This NYT article ought to make it clear that as racial boundaries continue to blur in the United States, affirmative action will grow increasingly unworkable.

Patria Rodriguez, an advertising sales director for a women's magazine in New York, takes after her father. With light brown skin and thick, curly hair, she says she resembles the actress Rosie Perez, but some people have asked her if she is Italian, and others have told her she looks like the singer Sade.

Like many Hispanic Americans, Ms. Rodriguez does not think of herself as black or white. "I acknowledge I have both black and white ancestry in me, but I choose to label myself in nonracial terms: Latina. Hispanic. Puerto Rican. Nuyorican," Ms. Rodriguez, 31, said. "I feel that being Latina implies mixed racial heritage, and I wish more people knew that. Why should I have to choose?"

As the Hispanic population booms, the fluid ways that she and other Latinos view their racial identities are drawing more attention and fueling the national debate over racial classifications — what they mean, what they should be and whether they are needed at all.

Now members of the United States' largest minority group, the nation's 38.8 million Hispanics, nearly half of them immigrants, harbor notions of race that are as varied as their Spanish and that often clash with the more bipolar views of many other Americans.

White? Black? Try "moreno," "trigueno" or "indio," terms that indicate skin shades and ancestry and accommodate several hues.

This heterogeneity has stumped the Census Bureau. In its 2000 count, almost half the Hispanic respondents refused to identify themselves by any of the five standard racial categories on the census forms: white, black, Asian, American Indian or Alaska native and a category that includes natives of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. The agency has since been surveying Hispanics to find a way to pinpoint them racially.

Affirmative action, whatever its' merits as a means of correcting past injustices, cannot and must not be allowed to become an open-ended policy that is institutionalized into American life. Do we really want the re-emergence of a society in which people's rights and opportunities are determined by their racial classification as "mulattoes", "quadroons", "octaroons" and so forth, and government bureaucrats work to ensure that everyone is slotted into the "correct" racial category? That looks to me very much like the apartheid South Africa of old, rather than something to aspire to.