A Washington man is trying to apply for affirmative action programs for his business despite being White.
His claim is starting a discussion about the concepts of race and ethnicity and the place DNA testing has in all of this.
Ralph Taylor started a business called Orion Insurance. He applied for an MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) certificate, entitling him to receive assistance from the state designed to help businesses owned by minorities or women.
Surprisingly, he was granted it.
However, when he applied for a similar certificate with the federal government, he was denied.
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Taylor has decided to fight this decision. As part of his argument, he provided the Office of Minority and Women's Business Enterprises (OMWBE) with a DNA test that shows he has 4% African DNA.
Despite his arguments and 'evidence', the office has continued to deny him a federal certificate. So, he sued the office and lost.
Taylor plans to reapply for the OMWBE certification later this month. It's unlikely he'll get it, but his position and case only bolsters a reactionary cause against helping minorities.
But does he have a point?
No. No he does not have a point.
The most common phrase you'll hear in relation to the validity of race is that it is a 'social construct.' And this is true. The concept of race is not grounded in genetics.
When you send off for a DNA testing kit, the company compares specific portions of your DNA with others they have on file. The more similar portions of your DNA are with the DNA of people identifying with different races and ethnicities, the more the results will say you matched.
This is not a completely wrong way to use DNA to find ethnic and racial history, as DNA from two people in the same geographic region will likely have more in common than DNA from a different country. However, this process is only a gleaned estimate.
If your DNA results show a 4% similarity with people from sub-Saharan Africa, it's almost meaningless. It's based on the sampling the specific genetics company has, which means your results will vary from company to company.
Additionally, the DNA could have European history further back which is where the similarities are. The similarities in chromosomes could be superficial. And there's always room for error.
So making this claim doesn't make Taylor Black.
But if race is a social construct, you can just change it to whatever you want, right?
Again, the answer is no.
Race may be a social construct, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have effects on people in the real world. Money is a social construct, but try telling that to your landlord when the rent is due.
You'll quickly find out the real effects a social construct can have on your life.
Someone who grows up Black or Hispanic, is going to have a very different experience from someone who grows up White. And while it might seem easy enough for a White person to claim another racial background, minorities don't exactly have that option.
Ralph Taylor has spent thousands of dollars trying to fight this system of affirmative action. He claims that he can have his birth certificate amended to state that he is purely Black or that he's female if that might help.
He claimed his point is to point out the arbitrary nature of affirmative action programs.
"The system the way it is now needs to break."
This is a ridiculous idea.
Obviously the system is flawed. There is no such thing as a perfect social structure.
But those flaws do not mean that we need to destroy the entire program. They mean we need to look at this and figure out ways to improve it.
It wasn't that long ago that people of color couldn't go to the same school as White people. We're only a few generations removed from the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws.
Affirmative action isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean we can let someone take advantage of it like this.
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