I'm hopeful that someday I will live in an America where these types of government questionnaires are not only frowned upon, but entirely illegal. Hopefully the US Supreme Court's upcoming decision in Fisher v. University of Texas will pave the way for that reality.
There are several reasons why racial classification by the government, even if done with the intention of righting past wrongs or leveling the playing field, is dead wrong and detrimental to our society.
First, labeling a person's race is impossible. I mean that literally. Siblings are the only racially identical sets of people on Earth, but everyone else is made up of a different soup of ancestral genes dating back (at least) to the dawn of homo sapiens. We all came from Africa, and each of us were produced by two unique blood lines that have been accumulating genetic diversity, generation by generation, over the course of millennia. In this sense, no two people (other than siblings) have identical ancestry. A fortiori , no two non-siblings share an identical racial makeup.
Second, assuming we're merely informing the State of our skin color, under the racial classification form featured in this post, for example, President Obama would have to choose whether he is black or white. Well, as we all know, his mother was "white" and his father was "black." If he chooses "black or African American" on the form over "White" (or vice-versa) has he committed a crime? Realize that the form is filled out subject to criminal prosecution, and he knows that his mother is white just as much as he knows his father is black. Both being equal, can he select one option over the other without "intentionally falsifying" the document?
Third, what is the State prepared to do if I, a light-haired, blue-eyed, "white" guy decide to check the "black or African American" box on the form? Am I to be brought before a judge or jury and have my skin color examined? May I submit scientific evidence (like, I don't know, something from the goddamn Field Museum) to demonstrate that my ancestry leads back to the East African Rift? How many generations back am I allowed to count? One? Two? Ten? Ten-thousand?
This form, which my employer, the State of Illinois, required me to complete subject to criminal prosecution, demanded that I confirm information which I am not certain to be accurate. To my knowledge, my most distance ancestors came here from Europe in the 20th century, BUT I HAVE NO IDEA whether any of their ancestors were "Asian" or "African" or "Hispanic". If any of them were, even one, would that make me a "minority?" Maybe my great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa Bruno impregnated a 1/16th Moroccan lady back in the 18th century, and she gave birth to my great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa Bruno. Does that make me African American?
Arbitrariness has found a stronghold in the modern American law of racial classification.
This text is from the Illinois State Employment Records Act:
5 ILCS 410/5
Findings and purpose. The General Assembly hereby finds as follows:
(a) Efficient, responsive, and accountable disbursement of State services is best facilitated by a diversified State work force which reflects the diversity of the tax-paying constituency the State work force is employed to serve.
(b) The purpose of this Act is to require and develop within existing State administrative processes a comprehensive procedure to collect, classify, maintain, and publish, for State and public use, information that provides the General Assembly and the People of this State with adequate information of the number of minorities, women, and physically disabled persons employed by State government within the State work force.
(c) To provide State officials, administrators and the People of the State with information to help guide efforts to achieve a more diversified State work force, the total number of persons employed within the State work force shall be tabulated in a comprehensive manner to provide meaningful review of the number and percentage of minorities, women, and physically disabled persons employed as part of the State work force.
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5 ILCS 410/10
(d) "Minority" means a person who is any of the following:
(1) American Indian or Alaska Native (a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America, including Central America, and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment).
(2) Asian (a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, but not limited to, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam).
(3) Black or African American (a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa). Terms such as "Haitian" or "Negro" can be used in addition to "Black or African American".
(4) Hispanic or Latino (a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race).
(5) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands).
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5 ILCS 410/25
Penalties. Any State employee, State official, or any other person who intentionally falsifies, attempts to falsify, aids, or attempts to aid the falsification of information required by this Act, or who intentionally fails or refuses to comply with the provisions of this Act, is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. In addition to any criminal penalties imposed, State employees or other persons employed by the State shall be terminated from employment, and State officials shall be removed from office upon conviction of a violation of this Section.