August 30, 2023
Theoretically, you could become a professor of ethnic studies without being the ethnicity you study, just as you can be a gerontologist without being old or a botanist without being a plant.
Still, and while I don’t often offer career advice, trust me on this: Don’t try it.
The pervasiveness of ethnic discrimination in college hiring is one reason for the amusing pattern that has emerged in recent years: The highest proportion of whites caught pretending to be some other more legally privileged race or ethnicity have tended to be academics, especially woke ethnic studies professors.
A classic example is Andrea “Andy” Smith, the chair of the UC Riverside ethnic studies department, whom supporters, such as her dissertation adviser Angela Davis, laud as “one of the greatest Indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time.” This month, however, after a decade and a half of controversy over her race, she finally agreed to retire next year because she had misrepresented herself as an American Indian.
How did Smith, the very white daughter of a nuclear physicist, succeed in pretending for decades to be a Native American? Her main shtick appears to have been (a) squinching up her eyes so that she looks a little Asian or Amerindian; and (b) confidently asserting, over and over, that she is an Indian.
Her younger sister was quickly fired by a theology college in 2010 for forging a Cherokee tribal membership card, but Smith managed to endure a decade and a half of plausible allegations that she was a “Pretendian.” She’ll get to keep her retirement benefits and the title of “professor emeritus.”
The separation agreement between UC Riverside and Smith is delicately phrased to be inconclusive, perhaps in part because affirmative action in state government was outlawed by California voters in both 1996 and 2020. So it should have been illegal for the University of California to hire her for being an Indian in 2008 and also illegal to fire her for not being an Indian in 2023. But only the most naive think that—legal or illegal—race doesn’t matter in UC hiring.
While employed as a professor at UC Riverside, Smith attended law school at UC Irvine, purportedly receiving funding targeted for nonwhites, and has launched over the past decade a fallback career as a lawyer. She must be a real go-getter. Or is being an ethnic studies professor such an easy gig that you can moonlight as a new lawyer?
Presumably, Professor Smith does not have even Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s level of DNA evidence in her favor because she hasn’t brought any forward. And a genealogist she twice hired to scour both sides of her family tree for an Indian ancestor has announced he couldn’t find one.
Still, Smith remains publicly unrepentant about Her Truth.
Another reason for the epidemic of race fraud among professors of grievance studies is that nobody much knows what exactly the rules are for determining whether you qualify for affirmative action.
Is the burden of proof on you to prove your membership in a legally privileged race/ethnicity? Or is it on your enemies? Perhaps in most professions outside of ethnic studies, people don’t have the time on their hands to wage a 15-year struggle to bring down a rival?
And what if, deep down in your soul, you believe that your Lived Experience is not really that of the boring white girl everybody thought you were when you were growing up? What if, instead, you feel that you are, in some manner that transcends tedious questions of fact, actually an exotic Indian princess or a hot-blooded Latinx salsa queen who was born to wear hoop earrings?
Is that enough?
We live in a culture that is currently lavishly, destructively indulgent of gender delusions. If, say, you are a man mediocre at swimming but then decide you are really America’s fastest woman swimmer, the Biden administration has your back.
You might think that race would work the same way as gender: your claim to have been assigned the wrong race at birth would trump the testimony of other people’s lying eyes.
Indeed, most of the time, affirmative action depends upon self-identification.
But, still…don’t get caught.
Ever since Rachel Dolezal was exposed as a fake black around the time in 2015 that “Caitlyn” Jenner was lauded as a real woman, the culture has been highly unsympathetic to comparable race delusions.
The main exception has been the Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren. And even in her case, her having told Harvard she was Native American may well have derailed her chance to be on the 2020 national ticket.
Smith’s story is a typical one, similar to Warren’s: According to relatives, there was a vague family legend of an Indian ancestor, which she ran with. (In the 19th-century American South, being descended from Pocahontas was the equivalent of Mayflower ancestry in the North. America never had a one-drop rule castigating Indians. Instead, while a lot of Indian blood was concerning, a little was glamorous.)
In Warren’s case, the lore turned out to be trivially true: The Stanford geneticist she hired to analyze her racial makeup from her DNA estimated that she had one Native American ancestor somewhere from six to ten generations ago. His best guess of eight generations back suggests Warren is 1/256th Amerinidian. (Genetics commentator Razib Khan argues that her hired gun did Warren a bad turn; he’d estimate her DNA as pointing to four to eight generations ago, or most likely 1/64th.)
And exactly how much ancestry is needed to make you affirmative-action-eligible?
As the years roll by, more and more Americans have ever more complicated ancestries, in part due to less opposition to interracial marriage, but also just due to modern transportation bringing together the races more often.
This issue has become more salient as two generations have gone by since the Nixon administration introduced race and ethnic preferences. Back then, there were relatively few people with only modest amounts of privileged ancestry: Hispanics in 1969, say, tended to be heavily Hispanic (although LAPD cop novelist Joseph Wambaugh, perhaps bemused by the new affirmative-action programs, was already inserting an “ambiguously Latin” character into most of his novels).
But two generations later, the grandchildren of many individuals who in 1969 qualified as Hispanic, American Indian, or, to a lesser extent, black are now often only one-fourth as nonwhite. Should these lineages continue to enjoy preferences?
Is 1/256th enough to qualify for affirmative action? Many scoffed at Warren’s DNA announcement, although Warren’s supporters argued it proved she was telling the truth. She has announced she is running for a third term in 2024, so her tendentious triviality so far hasn’t proved devastating to her career.
If 1/256th is not enough, how about a half? A sizable fraction of the affirmative-action academics who hounded Smith into retirement as a fraud have one white parent. So, in practice, one-half would seem to be plenty.
What about 1/4th? 1/8th? 1/16th? 1/32nd?
What the cutoff is for quotas is seldom discussed in the United States, even though it is becoming an ever more relevant question. Discussion of the technicalities of affirmative action is discouraged because it serves as a reminder that affirmative action exists.
David Bernstein’s recent book Classified suggests that judges have tended to lean toward 1/4th ancestry as enough to qualify for race privileges while sometimes saying that 1/8th, on the other hand, would be silly. But so far that seems to be more a matter of personal I-know-it-when-I-see-it reaction than of settled law.
There are strict rules for tribal membership (which vary by tribe), but qualifying for a casino check can be different from getting hired under affirmative action. For example, say that three of your eight great-grandparents each belonged to a different Indian tribe, each of which has a 1/4th blood quantum minimum for membership. You wouldn’t qualify for membership in any one tribe. But at 3/8th legitimate American Indian, should you qualify for affirmative action?
Or, conversely, say you are an official member of the Cherokee nation because one of your 32 great-great-great-grandparents was on the Dawes Rolls in 1907 (the Cherokee rule for determining tribal membership). Should your authentic Cherokee membership card get you affirmative action?
What about affirmative action for Hispanic ethnicity? Government forms currently allow you to specify more than one race but not more than one ethnicity: Hispanic or non-Hispanic, pick one and only one. So how much Hispanic ethnicity do you need to get ethnic preference in hiring?
This lack of well-known rules about how much ancestry is required encourages sociopathic personalities to think they can swing it. The main rule of affirmative action eligibility seems to be that it’s whatever you can get away with.
And that suggests a third reason that woke academics cheat more than most people: They tend to be of poor character. An Arizona State professor lamented in The New York Times Magazine in 2021:
Academia is an industry, like journalism, that defines itself in large part by its ethical standards; we’re supposed to educate people and produce knowledge. So what does it mean that we’re also a haven for fakes?
America’s opaque affirmative action system is largely dependent upon self-identification. The fact that it hasn’t collapsed into farce yet has been due in sizable part to the sense of honor among white men that they shouldn’t cheat to acquire racial privileges. It’s rather like the college honor code that mostly still exists in Southern colleges where young men were once expected to ask themselves: What Would Robert E. Lee Do?
The sustainability of affirmative action depends upon enough people continuing to subscribe to a characteristically white male sense of honor. Not surprisingly, it’s exactly those denizens of academia who most hold white men in contempt who are most likely to cheat.
The Supreme Court recently ruled against Harvard’s racial preferences but immediately conceded a giant loophole: College admissions departments may take into account applicants’ essays about their racial/ethnic identities.
So, Harvard, which isn’t run by dummies, immediately replaced last year’s application’s single optional essay with five required essays to let it keep on doing what the Supreme Court told it not to do.
For decades, America has been rewarding people for writing woe-is-me litanies about their oppression. (Not surprisingly, the youth of today are perhaps the unhappiest in American history.) Now upcoming generations have even stronger reasons to be fantasists about how racially oppressed they are.
This is only going to get worse.