In the universities and in the job market, America’s systems of racial and ethnic quotas have generally harmed Jews—whether by a design a century ago or in the name of helping other groups today. For precisely this reason, Ruth Wisse has argued that American Jews ought to oppose the efforts of colleges like Harvard to exclude Asian Americans. Behind such discriminatory policies are governmental systems designed to sort U.S. citizens by race, which are the subject of a new book by David E. Bernstein. George Will begins his review by citing an example of a Jew named Steve Lynn, who, unusually, benefitted from a quota:
His business qualified as a minority business enterprise because his ancestors were Sephardi Jews who fled Spain centuries ago, making him, in the government’s squint, Hispanic. Your government decrees that immigrants from India are Asians but their cousins from Afghanistan are White. In America’s benighted days of yore, hearings and trials determined racial identities (octoroon, quadroon, etc.). In today’s America, such determinations are progressive because they protect the integrity, such as it is, of affirmative-action programs.
In 1977, to facilitate gathering racial and ethnic data, the government promulgated racial and ethnic categories, but stipulated that they should not be “determinants of eligibility for participation in any federal program.” This was promptly ignored, and has been exacerbated by the American tradition of self-identification. Soon a scramble was on to win victim status, and to deny that status to groups which, if they clambered aboard the gravy train, would leave less gravy for the supposedly more deserving.
The racial/cultural/geographic/whatever spoils system is now so entrenched, it is too late for what would encourage a shared national identity: complete separation of race and state. Meaning, government abstention from racial and ethnic classifications.
Today’s ever-more-arbitrary system vindicates Bernstein’s warning that such classifications are “self-fulfilling”: they encourage people to think of themselves not as individuals but as members of grasping grievance groups. Young people are taught this unattractive orthodoxy at colleges that celebrate a “diversity” that is skin-deep.