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The Warren Rule: A Modest Proposal to End Racial Preferences

Racial preferences in higher education continue to linger despite numerous efforts to kill them off. Yes, voters can ban them, research can show their pernicious impact on intended beneficiaries, and judges can narrow their scope. However, they still persist and nothing on the horizon suggests that the end is near.

Let me suggest a radically different approach to killing the beast. We can make it nearly impossible for college admission officers to implement racial quotas by undermining the racial and ethnic categories that enable discrimination. Thus, if an admission officer cannot tell black from white, Hispanic from Native American, or otherwise pigeonhole applicants, preferences will vanish, or at least significantly decline. And, ironically, the schools which have long labored to push the rock of diversity up an insurmountable hill may welcome this change.

Here’s the plan: All students applying to selective schools will have their DNA tested. Invoking the infamous one drop rule, anyone with even the smallest percentage of black, Hispanic, Native American, or any other ancestry will now list themselves as such on their applications. Call it the Warren rule.

This claim of minority ancestry status can hardly be construed as fraud since DNA testing is scientific and there is no legal cut-off point regarding who is or is not a member of a racial or ethnic category. A recent Wall Street Journal article tells of a 67-year-old woman who always thought of herself as totally white but thanks to a DNA test discovered that her biological father was of West African ancestry. Interestingly, she then bought and wore some African clothing to demonstrate affirmation with this newly uncovered identity. Even Asians can participate given the scientific evidence of a DNA link between Asians and Native Americans.  Moreover, the one drop rule is well-accepted by Americans of all races and many prominent, successful African Americans  such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., had significant levels of Caucasian ancestry but were widely regarded as black.

Classification murkiness is already reflected in how the U.S. Census Bureau continuously wrestles with its racial categories. The Census allows multi-racial self-identification to accommodate, for example, a Portuguese-speaking, dark-skinned Brazilian to identify as both black and Hispanic. On this precedent, multi-racial self-identification can be applied more broadly. After all, Harvard Law School, hardly a bunch of dolts, had little problem hiring a blond, blue-eyed white-skinned person as an “authentic” Native American.   

Now for the coup de grâce. If a white parent insisting that their child is black, or Hispanic, or Native American for purposes of college admission is charged with fraud, we will defend them pro bono and insist upon a jury trial. We’ll then recruit notable leftist academics who have publicly insisted that there is no such thing as a biologically defined “race,” that racial categories are entirely socially constructed and that one’s choice of racial categories is entirely personal. Racial identity is, at least from this intersectional perspective, fraud-proof. If biological men can be classified as “women,” then surely whites can be black. Professors agreeing to testify on behalf of the accused will be paid an expert witness fee of $5,000, plus all expenses.

These expert witnesses will of course be informed that their testimony will be under oath and government prosecutors will probe their knowledge of genetics and otherwise challenge them. Hardly a problem, however, given how these professors have built their careers on espousing this social constructionist view in peer-reviewed journals. Hard to say how many learned experts holding this view will accept the $5,000 fee, but there must be some, and those who quail at defending their ideology in court can be publicly shamed for their lack of conviction.

Admission officers will suddenly see a flood of minority applicants, many of whom will be above average academically. If schools choose to accept all self-proclaimed classification claims as legitimate—and they’d better, or we’ll see them in court—they will admit scores of these newly recognized minorities, who have heretofore been discriminated against by the ignorant as whites or Asians.

Now, thanks to this vastly enlarged pool of minority applicants, the academic gaps associated with racial preferences would vanish or at least be much smaller. Schools would surely welcome this outcome; at long last, affirmative action has worked, just as Justice Sandra Day O’Conner hoped for back in 2003. No more lawsuits either from aggrieved whites or Asians. All the expensive infrastructure needed to achieve diversity can be dismantled. Mission accomplished, social justice warriors, hooray!

[Image via United States Senate (Public domain)]

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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