Victor Davis Hanson

For that answer, ask George Zimmerman. Had he applied for college admission or a certain type of job, a politically correct university or an employer pressed to meet diversity quotas mostly certainly would have dubbed Zimmerman "Hispanic."

Identities, in psychodramatic fashion, are sometimes put on and taken off, like clothes, as self-interest dictates -- given that so often they are no longer ascertainable from appearance. If that sounds crass or unfair, ask Elizabeth Warren, who dropped her Native American claims as soon as she at last received tenure and found her 1/32 con suddenly superfluous -- to the apparent unconcern of her similarly cynical but now mum employer, Harvard.

Nor is race sure proof of either poverty or past oppression. Asian Americans, for example, have a median family income more than $10,000 a year higher than white Americans. And if pigmentation is proof of ongoing prejudice, why don't darker Punjabis and Arabs -- who do not qualify for special racial preferences -- deserve consideration over those lighter-skinned minorities who do?

How long after a Mexican national crossed the border would he become a Chicano eligible for affirmative action? Do Attorney General Eric Holder's children qualify? Do 1/32 (one great-great-great grandparent) or 1/16 (one great-great grandparent) Cherokees receive preferential treatment? And if so, who administers this odious Jim Crow one-drop DNA test, and how?

In truth, after a half-century in our self-created racial labyrinth, no one quite knows who qualifies as an oppressed victim or why -- only that the more one can change a name or emphasize lineage, the better the careerist edge. The real worry is that soon we will have so many recompense-seeking victims that we will run out of concession-granting oppressors.

How odd (or rather, how predictable) that something that started out as a supposedly noble lie -- that to atone for past bias we must be judged by the color of our skin rather than the content of our character -- has become utterly ignoble and beneath us.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.