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David Bernstein — Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America

Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America (book cover)

Shermer and Bernstein discuss:

  • the SCOTUS case on affirmative action and race preferences at Harvard and elsewhere
  • Elizabeth Warren (Cherokee ancestry — Bureau of Indian Affairs rejects?)
  • Tiger Woods: Cablinasian (European, African, Thai, Chinese ancestry)
  • George Zimmerman (Hispanic, half Hispanic, mixed-race, White Hispanic, White, or…?)
  • Rachel Dolezal (NAACP official, adopted an African American identity, though has none)
  • Kamala Harris (child of an Indian immigrant mother, father of mixed-African and European heritage from Jamaica)
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)
  • ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves)
  • the biology and legality of race
  • the one-drop rule of race classification
  • the rise of modern racial classification
  • Hispanic, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Armenian, Cajun, South Asian, Arab, and Iranian categories
  • American Indians/Native Americans
  • race classification and reparations
  • How can we achieve a race-blind society?

David E. Bernstein holds a University Professorship chair at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, where he has been teaching since 1995. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, Georgetown University, William & Mary, Brooklyn Law School, and the University of Turin. Known as a fearless contrarian, Professor Bernstein often challenges the conventional wisdom with prodigious research and sharp, original analysis. His book Rehabilitating Lochner was praised across the political spectrum as “intellectual history in its highest form,” a “fresh perspective and a cogent analysis,” “delightful and informative,” “sharp and iconoclastic,” “well-written and destined to be influential,” and “a terrific work of historical revisionism.” Professor Bernstein blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy (the leading law professor blog) and at Professor Bernstein is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he was senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and a John M. Olin Fellow in Law, Economics, and Public Policy. Professor Bernstein is married and has three children of mixed Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Spanish-Jewish origin. He prefers not to classify them.

About the Book

Americans are understandably squeamish about official racial and ethnic classifications. Nevertheless, they are ubiquitous in American life. Applying for a job, mortgage, university admission, citizenship, government contracts, and much more involves checking a box stating whether one is Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. While reviewing the surprising history of American racial classifications, Classified raises questions about the classifications’ coherence, logic, and fairness; for example:

  • Should Pakistani, Chinese, and Filipino Americans be in the same category despite their obvious differences in culture, appearance, religion, and more?
  • Why does the government not allow Americans to classify themselves as bi- or multi-racial?
  • How did the government decide that a dark-complexioned, burka-wearing Muslim Yemini should be classified as generically White, but a blond-haired, blue-eyed immigrant from Spain should be classified as Hispanic and treated as a member of a minority group?
  • Why does the government require biomedical researchers to classify study participants by the official racial categories, when the classifications have no scientific basis?

In an increasingly diverse society with high rates of intergroup marriage, the American system of racial classification is getting even more arbitrary and absurd. With rising ethno-nationalism threatening democracy around the world, it’s also dangerous. Dr. Bernstein argues that the time has come to consider abolishing official racial classification and replace it with the separation of race and state.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on January 14, 2023.

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