In an essay, "Mongrel America," published in the January-February 2003 Atlantic Monthly, Gregory Rodriguez of the New America Foundation suggests that intermarriage rates will accelerate enough that by the end of the century, 37 percent of African Americans will claim mixed ancestry and the number of Latinos claiming mixed ancestry will be twice the number claiming a single background. "Nationally," Rodriguez writes, "whereas only 8 percent of foreign-born Latinos marry non-Latinos, 32 percent of second-generation Latinos and 57 percent of third-generation Latinos marry outside their ethnic group." For those three categories of Asian Americans, the percentages are 13, 34 and 54.
John D. Skrentny, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, wrote in the winter 2002 issue of the Public Interest about questions arising from the unintended entanglement of affirmative action with immigration realities. Should affirmative action apply to recent black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean? What threshold of past -- or present -- discrimination is pertinent to trigger eligibility for affirmative action?
Or is discrimination even pertinent? The "diversity" rationale for some racial preferences, as in college admissions, has no necessary connection to any suffering.
And, by the way, are Hispanics "people of color" or, as many of them think, white? That is how the 1920 Census counted Mexican Americans. The 1930 Census assigned them to a separate Mexican racial category. In 1940 they were reclassified as white. "Today," says Rodriguez, "almost half the Latinos in California, which is home to a third of the nation's Latinos (most of them of Mexican descent), check 'other' as their race."
Thirty years ago, New York Sen. James Buckley complained that the Labor Department Office of Federal Contract Compliance's primary regulation concerning affirmative action used the word "minority" 65 times without defining it. You can understand why.
The growing arbitrariness and unreality of the government's official racial categories is a reason for dropping them. Unfortunately, the spoils system that has grown up around them gives interest groups a stake in perpetuating them.
But race relations are being bedeviled by battles over quotas, preferences and other badges of victimhood and diminished competence. A cooling of the acrimonious scramble for group preferences might be one result of blurring the false clarity of the racial categories that the census uses and that fuel the scramble. And in this, blurring would be not imprecision, but accuracy.