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.

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