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Legal racial discrimination didn’t end with the abolition of slavery, or with Jim Crow, or the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So-called “Affirmative Action” programs upheld by the Supreme Court have made it legal for institutions to discriminate based on race since the 1970s. But for many people, the American melting pot has melted away well-defined racial boundaries, making the simple pigeonholing of Affirmative Action difficult to administer.
And now, with DNA testing, many people can rightfully lay claim to all sorts of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Because Affirmative Action sets aside different rewards for different races, people now have an incentive to “discover” racial backgrounds that might be beneficial to them. The New York Times reports:
Alan Moldawer’s adopted twins, Matt and Andrew, had always thought of themselves as white. But when it came time for them to apply to college last year, Mr. Moldawer thought it might be worth investigating the origins of their slightly tan-tinted skin, with a new DNA kit that he had heard could determine an individual’s genetic ancestry.
The results, designating the boys 9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African, arrived too late for the admissions process. But Mr. Moldawer, a business executive in Silver Spring, Md., says they could be useful in obtaining financial aid.
“Naturally when you’re applying to college you’re looking at how your genetic status might help you,” said Mr. Moldawer, who knows that the twins’ birth parents are white, but has little information about their extended family. “I have three kids going now, and you can bet that any advantage we can take we will.”
Given the tests’ speculative nature, it seems unlikely that colleges, governments and other institutions will embrace them. But that has not stopped many test-takers from adopting new DNA-based ethnicities — and a sense of entitlement to the privileges typically reserved for them.
“This is not just somebody’s desire to go find out whether their grandfather is Polish,” said Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University who has studied the social impact of the tests. “It’s about access to money and power.”
Affirmative Action has always been a bit hypocritical in a society that claims to strive for color-blindness. Technology is now helping us see just how absurd it is.