OK, Parse This for an Israeli or Armenian Lawyer Who Works at Your Firm:

From the fourth edition of the Vault / Minority Corporate Counsel Association survey:

4. For this survey, minorities are defined as those whose race is other than White/Caucasian and include African-American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, Alaskan/American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and Multiracial. If your firm has not tracked and does not have data for one or more of these categories (such as Middle Eastern), you may include a footnote explaining which categories are not recognized by your firm. For example: "The totals above for minority men and minority women do not include Middle Eastern associates." Please note that for the purposes of this survey, "White" means "White/Caucasian" and does not include "White/Hispanic."

So is the Israeli a minority because he is Middle Eastern? Is he not a minority because it is not the case that his "race is other than White/Caucasian" -- but if that's so, then how would most Middle Easterners be minorities, given that under all the standard racial definitions with which I'm familiar Middle Easterners are considered white or Caucasian? Is the Israeli only a minority if his forbears case from the Middle East, as opposed to being from (say) Poland or Russia, and, if so, what should he do if he thinks your 2000-years-ago forbears did come from the Middle East?

Or are you supposed to say, "I know what the MCCA means, Israelis aren't real Middle Easterners or real minorities, because they're too Western, Middle Easterner means ..." -- means what exactly? Just people from poor middle Eastern countries? How about people whose well-educated parents left Iran following the fall of the Shah? Saudis? Are you supposed to try to decide based on how much discrimination the Middle Easterners are likely to face or have faced in America?

OK, now tell me what you do with Armenians. Does it matter whether they are from Soviet Armenia, Iran, or the Armenian diaspora? (I should note, by the way, that there are a lot of Armenian law students at least in the L.A. area.) Do they have to be Middle-Eastern-looking, as opposed to more East-European-looking?

I realize, of course, that there is imprecision in all measurement systems, and the imprecision, the opportunities for gamesmanship, and the difficulty to which people are put when they have to figure out identity labels for themselves and colleagues aren't reasons enough to abandon such inquiries. But they are costs to be kept in mind -- especially as groups keep getting added, and the costs and imprecision (who's "Middle Eastern"? "Asian"? "Hispanic"/"Latino"? "with disabilities or physical challenges"?) mount.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "Is Somebody from Spain Hispanic?"
  2. "Do You Have Any Openly Religious Attorneys?,"
  3. OK, Parse This for an Israeli or Armenian Lawyer Who Works at Your Firm:
Ultimately, we are ALL Africans!
7.18.2007 8:45pm
M (mail):
The Armenian case is easy- they are from the Caucasus and so are Caucasian, and as you well know caucasians are black, so Armenians are black. Problem solved.
7.18.2007 8:47pm
Bpbatista (mail):
I always answer: "Native American"

After all, I WAS born in America.
7.18.2007 9:01pm
Rich B. (mail):
This is not hard. Every law firm shoehorns as many of their lawyers as possible into the "minority" category, and as a result, every firm has a few blond "Hispanics" or "disabled" individuals who are only in a wheelchair until their ankle heals.

Since everyone uses the identical definitions -- everyone for whom there is a colorable case -- yes, the Israeli and Armenian count, and a firm would be stupid to exclude them, everyone mentally subtracts a few diversity points from every lawfirm based on the conclusion that they don't.
7.18.2007 9:04pm
FAR Form Filler Outter:
Funny, I was having a similar dilemma trying to figure out the "right" boxes to check on the FAR form.
7.18.2007 9:18pm
MDJD2B (mail):
"Caucasian" means "white."
7.18.2007 9:36pm
holdfast (mail):
Remember, diversity means everyone must look different but think, act and vote exactly the same. Oh - and the only white male on the cover of the diversity manual? He's gay (true story).
7.18.2007 9:48pm
M (mail):
MDJD2B, That was a joke about how in Russia people from the Caucasus (such as Armenians) are called "chornies" or, literally, "blacks". It's an offensive term there, but quite commonly used.
7.18.2007 10:19pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I remember that at one point (applying for contract work with the state government) I received a questionaire along those lines. My answers were:

Q. How diverse is your firm (blah, blah)?

As a one-person law firm I find it difficult to seek diversity. However, I have discovered I am 1/8 American Indian.

Q, What is your firm doing to further promote diversity?

I am researching indications that I may be part African-American, too.
7.18.2007 10:46pm
LongSufferingRaidersFan (mail):
There are many perfectly good reasons for abandoning such inquiries that have nothing to do with their imprecision.
7.18.2007 10:46pm
AK (mail):
So is the Israeli a minority because he is Middle Eastern?

No, an Israeli is Asian, as Israel is on the continent of Asia. I don't know why the mongoloid people: Chinese, Japanense (who aren't even on the continent), etc., get to claim that they're the only true Asians when they occupy only a fraction of the continent of Asia.
7.18.2007 11:13pm
AK (mail):
Ultimately, we are ALL Africans!

I can top that: I'm a Pangean-American. Now give me my Affirmative Action and my grievance group.
7.18.2007 11:16pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Is somebody from Spain Hispanic? (Hint: Not according to the government diversity manual.)

Went to a wedding in Mexico several years ago. Sit down dinner for 650. Each table had one or two guys whose job was to keep you from seeing the bottom of your glass. Our friends, the bride's parents, were relieved when the father of the groom--even wealthier--offered to take the bar bill of more than $10,000 off their hands.

The only people there who looked Mexican were the help.

So, if they were here permanently, with the remittances flowing north for a change, they'd get a break. Unlike, say, somebody from the Extramadura (Spanish for "really tough" from which, for obvious reasons, many Conquistadores came) whose father was downsized when his firm outsourced to India.

This whole thing makes so much sense.

But, anyway, it would serve the diversity schmucks right to take them literally. An Israeli is Middle Eastern, despite his legacy of civilization. Scroom if they can't take a joke.
7.18.2007 11:30pm
ATL (mail) (www):
As AK correctly points out:

No, an Israeli is Asian, as Israel is on the continent of Asia. I don't know why the mongoloid people: Chinese, Japanense (who aren't even on the continent), etc., get to claim that they're the only true Asians when they occupy only a fraction of the continent of Asia.

Armenians have a harder time, since their nation straddles Europe and Asia and is truly Eurasian. Probably, however, Armenians are quintessentially caucasian.
7.18.2007 11:30pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I was reading Bernard Lewis' "Race and Slavery in the Middle East" last night. In an endnote, he wrote that when he joined the British Army in 1940, he was asked his race, and he did not know what to write down.

He was pretty sure the army didn't want to know whether he was Aryan or not.

So he asked the sergeant, who informed him that as far as the army was concerned, there were only four races: English, Scots, Irish or Welsh.
7.18.2007 11:42pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The wisdom of the sergeants surpasseth all understanding.

That explains a bit I read in an anthology of RAF actions in the Big War. A particular pilot was described as "a grand Englishman" by another Brit.

Who was, probably, aware of some kind of descent from the Romano-Celtic branch, but willing to be convinced as to the Saxons.

Geez. This is complicated.
7.19.2007 12:13am
Dave N (mail):
Is a white person born in Zimbabwe, South Africa, or any other part of the African continent for that matter, an African American once he gains his American citizenship?

For that matter, why should Muammar Ghaddafi or his fellow Libyans be considered Black even though they are definitely from Africa?
7.19.2007 12:31am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Dave. I believe a high school refused to let a white kid who'd been born in Zimbabwe join the African-American club.
While an airhead announcer once referred to a black athlete from Africa as--scratching around for a term--"African-American"
This is all very mixed up if you take the diversity guys literally and act as if you presume they're acting in good faith.
If you presume they're corrupt as hell, it makes sense.
7.19.2007 12:34am
"...everyone for whom there is a colorable case"

Can someone help me with the definition of "colorable"? According to Black's, "colorable" is something like the colloquial "bogus." ("That which is in appearance only, and not in reality, what it purports to be, hence counterfeit, feigned, having the appearance of truth.") Yet I have never heard/read "colorable" used that way. Instead, as here, "colorable" is generally used to characterize a case/claim as having at least some possible merit, i.e., a case/claim that is neither unquestionably meritorious, nor undeniably without any merit.

Is my understanding of "colorable" right/wrong? How can a word have a meaning so different from, even at odds with, the dictionary one? (I don't think "colorable" counts as a "Janus" word, that is one that can go either way, so that one must look to the context to be sure of the meaning.)

And to expand a bit on "colorable" in the context of EV's post...what is the history of "Hispanic" as a racial category? It is a legitimate racial category, or as legitimate as racial categories get, but "Nordic" is not? Brazilians are "Hispanic/Latino" no matter that their native language is not Spanish and they might be descendants of European immigrants from other than the Iberian Peninsula? "Color" and/or other readily observable physical traits are or are not fundamental to notions of "race"?
7.19.2007 1:27am
Jim at FSU (mail):
As I remember from my now-distant experience applying to undergrad, any non-white group that was perceived as unable to succeed on their own merits was a minority. Stereotypically smart or industrious minorities (asians, jews, indians) need not apply. Ironically, the people that benefited the most from these programs tended to be stereotype defying members of the supposedly inferior groups- ie middle class blacks and hispanics.

We're dealing with a body of public policy made from racial and ethnic stereotypes, ostensibly for the purpose of eliminating such stereotypes from our culture. By treating all people as group-members rather than as individuals that possess or lack qualifications for a job or an admissions slot, we perpetrate a new set of racial stereotypes in place of the old ones. The only way to eradicate prejudice of this sort is to have public policies that treat people like individuals instead of trying to classify them.

Who cares if someone is hispanic or european. If they are qualified and they outbid everyone else, they win.
7.19.2007 4:07am
Armen (mail) (www):
This is an interesting post and I have VERY strong views. I hate...let me say that again...HATE racial categories. Now I'm not some CJ Roberts protege who thinks the government shouldn't use race. I just hate racial classification.

This is the quintessential problem I've always faced. I'm a former Soviet Armenian. Am I Caucasian/White? Yeah I guess. But that doesn't really capture it does it? Do I feel as White and Caucasian as someone named John Q. Smith? No. I don't even have a middle name b/c the old country had patronymic middle names and mine was dropped somewhere in the process.

The last name? Don't get me Armenian name, transcribed into English from a Russian iteration. Let's just say "dzh" are in there and in that order. I often joke with customer service reps when they ask me to spell my name, "Oh it's spelled phonetically."

In the end, I think my former roommate captured it best when he wrote an e-mail to a potential sublessee describing me: "Armen - Caucasian guy (as in ... he is actually from the Caucases)" Of course, a CHP officer in Fresno marked "other" on a traffic citation.
7.19.2007 5:21am
Warmongering Lunatic (mail):
Bah. That's too easy. Use the case of a Sephardic Jew who's a native speaker of Judeo-Espanyol (Ladino) and who was born in European Turkey.
7.19.2007 5:23am
markm (mail):
Neurodoc: IANAL, but I think the working definition of "colorable" in this context is, "plausible enough that, if they check up on your claim, they can only disallow it, not penalize you for fraud."
7.19.2007 9:27am
texas lawyer (mail):
I had a white friend who was born in Africa to missionary parents. He always said he was African-American.
7.19.2007 10:53am
Smiley (mail):
This exchange reminds me of the SNL episode when Tracy Morgan asked Charlize Theron if, being from South Africa, she was African-American. ("Yes")

As for the changing perception of whose what, that should hardly be a surprise. I understand that in the early 20th century, East and Central Europeans were considered dubiously white at best.

Regarding Indians, there is actually a SCOTUS case, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923), which holds that Indians are Caucasian, but not white, at least for citizenship services.

Perhaps the most telling instance I recollect was reading the diary of a nineteenth century Minnesota settler in college, who wrote: "We are but nine white men, and two Swedes." So depending on your perspective, Swedes could be non-white too.
7.19.2007 11:01am
Tracy Johnson (www):
I first misread the Title, now it strikes me as funny. I thought the last word was "Farm".
7.19.2007 11:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):

Does that remind you of the supposed translation of the Kensington Rune Stone?

That was earlier than the nineteenth century, if it had actually happened, which it didn't.
7.19.2007 11:25am
Larry1 (mail):
P.J. O'Rourke wrote about the difficulties administering these kinds of ethnic and racial tests. He wrote if the government needs to find some people who are skilled and experienced at this sort of thing, they can hire some of the guys who used to administer the Nuremberg laws (the laws from the Nazi regime that governed whether a person was Jewish).
7.19.2007 11:32am
Mike O (mail):
OK, let's starting getting into the really muddy waters here. What bucket do you put Tiger Woods in? Black? Asian? White?

How about my son; Amerasian (looks caucasian), with a growing disability from a medical condition. He limps significantly, but still does not need braces yet; losing hearing as well. Will that become 2 points if they become severe enough? (Yes, one develops a sick sense of humor when your kids have such problems; it's all you can do to stay sane.)

How many diversity points can one person be worth? A Hispanic-black-asian-Middle East woman with multiple disabilities would be worth training as a lawyer just to get all your points in one package.

Myself, if given a space for ethnicity, I list 'Human'.
7.19.2007 11:47am
rarango (mail):
Richard Aubrey: Thanks for the reminder about the Extremadura region as home to many of the conquistadores. Apparently it was also a very poor and very feudal region where the second and third sons who did not inherit the estates and became either priests or conquistadores.
7.19.2007 12:01pm
Earlier this month I heard someone describing a black British person this way:

"He's African American, but English."

She said it several times and really had no good way to get out of the bind. I managed to stifle my laugh, but it was a near thing.
7.19.2007 12:09pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
rarango. I believe Pizzaro came from Really Tough and was a swineherd's brat. Or a swineherd. Possibly both.
Anyway, after 1492, Spain had the New World as a sink for the unemployed turbulent spirits of the Reconquista. Too bad for the Americas.
But more fun for the conqs than herding swine.
And I believe the prominence of the first son was general in Europe.
Second sons of the landed gentry and minor nobility officered the armies.
They'd either die or get some booty someplace. I mean loot.
7.19.2007 12:32pm
Spartacus (www):
"He's African American, but English."

This, and the white emigree from Africa to America point to the absurdity of both the term African-American and the squeamishness of people who, for some reason, cannot say, "black."
7.19.2007 12:34pm
Smiley (mail):

And I believe the prominence of the first son was general in Europe.

It certainly contributed to the British role in India. The British Indian Army, and the Indian Civil Service were staffed largely by the sons of the landed gentry who would not be inheriting the estates. The costs of living in India were much lower, the pay higher.
7.19.2007 12:50pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Smiley. Most of what I know about the old British Army I got from Jack Masters' "Bugles and A Tiger". He wrote about his pre-war experiences in a Gurkha regiment.
I believe the British Army made a deliberate decision to see that officers could not live on their pay so that the officers would have to come from establishment families and thus be no threat against the establishment.
But the colonial armies paid better so the less-wealthy officers took slots in the colonies. (Masters was the fifth generation of his family who served in India.) Might be the reason for their prominence in various wars--Slim, for example--in that they had to be good, not just wealthy and connected.
"A vast system of outdoor relief for the middle and upper classes."
Which proved to be damned useful on occasion.

Now it hits me. "Prominence of the first son" was my way of making up for not being able to remember PRIMOGENITURE. Sorry 'bout that.
7.19.2007 1:20pm
holdfast (mail):
At our mandatory diversity lecture (part of 1st year training) my idiot friend had the temerity to describe himself as African-American (white South African, naturalized US Citizen). I have no doubt this went on his record somewhere. They actually had a matrix to show which groups were oppressors and which were oppressed. The woman conducting the lecture told an anecdote about how her gangsta-dressing son always got weird looks on the MetroNorth - so I asked her if she would give me strange looks if I shaved my head and wore 14 hole cherry red docs, combat pants, a white T-shirt and red suspenders. She declined to answer. She also didn't want to agree that a fundamentalist Christian of Indian descent was a persecuted minority in a liberal law school.
7.19.2007 1:36pm
"They actually had a matrix to show which groups were oppressors and which were oppressed."

Oh, good Lord! Which do the Irish get to be? How about working class English people, or the richest man in Indonesia? People who pull things like this should be frog-marched out of the room, then laughed at for years.

I think I've said it before on this site, but I don't object to "African American" as an ethnic, as opposed to racial, designation for Americans who trace their ancestry to sub-saharan Africa before it was divided up into the countries it has now. More recent immigrants can use their actual countries of origin. "Black" still seems useful as a physical description, even if it isn't terribly precise ("white" covers a huge range too), and the main advantage is that it includes people who aren't Americans. Is it becoming a suspect word, the way "negro" did when "black" became the word of choice? If so, we are going to see a lot more silliness like my example.
7.19.2007 2:04pm
Smiley (mail):

I believe the British Army made a deliberate decision to see that officers could not live on their pay so that the officers would have to come from establishment families and thus be no threat against the establishment.

It wouldnt surprise me. For one thing, commissions had to be purchased, I believe. Jane Austen fans recall that the villainous Wickam had one bought for him by Mr. Darcy to ensure he lived up to his honorable obligations.

Incidentally, if you liked Masters, "Freedom at Midnight" is another great book for describing the lives of the British "pukka sahebs" in India.

Might be the reason for their prominence in various wars--Slim, for example--in that they had to be good, not just wealthy and connected

Interesting insight. Field Marshal Montgomery for one, was "passed over" for induction into the Indian Army; biographers have speculated that his animosity toward British Indian Army formations stemmed from that disappointment.
7.19.2007 2:43pm

P.J. O'Rourke wrote about the difficulties administering these kinds of ethnic and racial tests. He wrote if the government needs to find some people who are skilled and experienced at this sort of thing, they can hire some of the guys who used to administer the Nuremberg laws (the laws from the Nazi regime that governed whether a person was Jewish).

And if that does not fly (too notorious a label), they could hire former bureaucrats from South Africa. Those guys were really subtle. For instance, Chinese were yellow but Japanese - white. And they could explain it too. Moreover, pragmatic ingenuity was rampant. American diplomats there were often black. Their official designation in South Africa was "honorary whites", otherwise diplomatic functions might have logistical problems. Sounds like the experts we need here.
7.19.2007 2:53pm
This is why we should follow CJ Roberts example and not classify people by race. It is something out of Apartheid.
7.19.2007 2:57pm
NickM (mail) (www):
I have a female friend who's blond, blue-eyed, and keeps getting classified by government officials (especially when she was working on her master's) as Asian-American/Pacific Islander. Her father is English and (I think) Scotch-Irish, and I believe her mother is Danish and German.

Of course, at the time she was born, her parents were living at the U.S. Naval Base at Subic Bay, Philippines. Her father was a U.S. Navy officer. Her 2 siblings were born stateside.

Now that's an interesting way to have multiracial kids.

7.19.2007 3:56pm
Warmongering Lunatic (mail):
Mike O --

In this case (see the original post), Tiger Woods is easy to classify -- Multiracial. No muss, no fuss.
7.19.2007 4:41pm
Couldn't one just leave a footnote saying that the firm doesn't recognize any of the categories?
7.19.2007 5:18pm
rarango (mail):
Richard Aubrey-in this politically correct world, the conquistadores get no respect; but I, for one, definitely admire Cortez's brashness in disobeying the Spanish Viceroy in Cuba, commandering the ships to the Yucatan, burning them with a Spanish army in pursuit and millions of aztecs in front of him, and conquoring the country with 120 some odd mercenaries whose sole means of transport had been burned. Talk about cojones!
7.19.2007 5:33pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Bernard Lewis says that Arabs around the 8th century described themselves as red (or white) when comparing themselves with Africans but as brown when comparing themselves with Persians.

They described Greeks and north Europeans as, variously, red, blue or white.

You don't have to go as far as either Germany or South Africa to find experienced race-classifiers, unfortunately. Louisiana had an official one until a few decades ago.

A friend of mine in the South liked to tell the story of her aunt, who was of ambiguous ancestral appearance. This was about half a century ago.

From time to time, she had to declare her race -- even on loan applications at the bank. She never would. When the poor clerk, whoever it was, would ask her what her race was, she would reply, as if it were obvious, 'What do you think?'
7.19.2007 8:53pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Re Tiger Woods: he describes himself as "Cablinasian".

Re the conquistadores:

Once there was an Indio youth out hunting or something. He came across the old witch-woman with her leg stuck in something, and he saved her. So she gave him a favor - offered to turn him into whatever creature he wanted to be.

He asked to be a yaguarete, a jaguar-man, because the jaguar was the fiercest beast in the jungle. As a jaguar, he took whatever he wanted, till one day a fox tricked him of his prey.

So he went back to the witch-woman, and asked to be a fox. As a fox, he tricked and cheated all the other beasts, till he was defeated by a snake.

He went back to the witch-woman again, became a snake, and slimed and slithered through the jungle till he was stung by a wasp.

So he went back to the witch-woman yet again. He asked to be made into a creature more ferocious than a jaguar, more cunning than a fox, more insidious than a snake, and more vicious than a wssp.

That's easy, said the witch-woman, and she made him a Spaniard.
7.19.2007 8:59pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It should be recalled that the Spanish conquered the Aztecs with the help of tens of thousands of other Indians who had been viciously oppressed by the Aztecs.
Might have been a bad long-term strategy, but it shows how awful the Aztecs looked to their subjects.
7.19.2007 11:45pm
markm (mail):
Richard: At least the Spaniards never ate their slaves.
7.20.2007 4:19pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
But they were Europeans, so no doubt they did something worse.
Besides, as Jared Diamond would probably have said, the Spaniards' possession of draft animals and steel made it possible to grow enough food without eating men. So it wouldn't be fair to condemn the Aztecs, the poor things.
I mean, they were superior to the Europeans in all ways, of course (it should go without saying), but you have to give them some slack when protein was short.
7.21.2007 12:32am
Richard Aubrey, perhaps you saw that movie Aguire(sp?), Wrath of God (Klaus Kinski and Werner Hertzog, I think). I recall little of it other than those conquistadores floating down river past the natives lining the shore, stomping their spears and feet while shouting, "Meat, meat, meat..."). Rather unsettling scene.
7.21.2007 8:03pm