David E. Bernstein is on an intellectual crusade which, like many crusades, contains points of both insight and blindness. With commendable brevity he introduces the thesis of his new book, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America:

 

Official American racial and ethnic classifications are arbitrary and inconsistent, both in how they are defined and how they are enforced. The categories are socially constructed and historically contingent. They evolved from older racist categories and have barely been updated since the 1970s…. Modern American racial and ethnic classifications do not reflect biology, genetics, or any other objective source.

 

His basic and incontrovertible point is that the standard five-fold classification of white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indians (Native Americans) is utterly useless for deciding who should get preferences in education, business, or anywhere else given a large, heterogeneous population that must be sorted into distinct, but internally disjointed, groups.

Bernstein, a distinguished law professor at the George Mason University School of Law, opens with an anecdote that neatly illustrates the challenge: Kao Lee Yang, a Hmong-American neuroscience Ph.D. student, was denied a prestigious fellowship for members of “groups historically

Subscribe for access This article is reserved for subscribers.