Obama’s Last Play for Ethnic Identity Politics

(Dreamstime image: Les Cunliffe)
Introducing Mena, a new ethnic group created by the lame-duck administration

One day in the not-too-distant future, you may be asked to stand at attention at your local  ballpark — Busch Stadium, perhaps — to celebrate Mena Heritage Day. The organist will do his level best to play traditional Mena music, vendors will serve Mena delicacies, and a chorus of Mena-American children will sing the national anthem.

Huh? What on earth is Mena, you ask? It is the new ethnic group created by the Obama administration to cobble together Americans with origins in the Middle East and North Africa. The group will comprise people as varied as ethnic Berbers, Arabs, Israelis, Persians, and many more. According to proposals by the Office of Management and Budget, Mena may be on the 2020 census.

But if that is the case, you may persist, there is no Mena music, cuisine, race, ethnicity, or culture, so what the heck are they going to be doing at Busch Stadium? And you’d be right, technically.

But that wouldn’t stop pride in Menaism from being progressively drilled into the young and unsuspecting by our schools or from being embraced by corporations and sports leagues that want to buy a little peace. And, of course, let’s not forget how government would bribe people to tick the Mena box with the full array of benefits that come in the affirmative-action cornucopia. Or that congressional districts would be carved off for Mena people so that they would be able, in the words of the amended Voting Rights Act, “to participate in the political process and to elect a candidate of their choice.”

If you doubt that all of this is possible, much less likely, then you really haven’t been watching what has happened with “Hispanics.” There’s no better blueprint for Mena.

Hispanics comprise Americans as different from one another culturally, racially, and historically as Argentines, Mexicans, Bolivians, Dominicans, and Venezuelans. They look like this, this, and this. And yet millions of Millennials today believe they eat Hispanic food, dance to Latino music, and study Hispanic history.

Indeed, many Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, etc. themselves are now starting to identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, a classification that came into being only in the 1970s and is the creation of federal bureaucrats with no input from scientists or anthropologists.

Why is the OMB pushing the proposal now? Time is running out on an administration that puts so much stock in demography.

And to make sure that this trend continues and grows, another OMB proposal for the 2020 census would effectively eliminate the ability that Hispanics now have to identify their race as well as a Hispanic “ethnicity.” The proposal is murky, but what it does is collapse the two questions now asked about ethnicity and race into one. The broad effect would be to make “Hispanics” the only racial identifier, or category, for 56 million people who represent 17 percent of the U.S. population.

The proposed census form defines “white” as “German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, etc.” For “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish,” the definition is “Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian, etc.”

Now, if you’re a Mexican American who has always considered yourself white because of your Spanish ancestry, you have one choice. You would never check a box designated for persons of German, Irish, or other origins north of the Pyrenes, because that doesn’t describe you. So the only choice you have is Hispanic.

Why is the OMB pushing the proposal now? Well, time is running out on an administration that puts so much stock in demography that one of its first acts was to make the head of the Census Bureau report directly to the White House.

There’s also the fact that many Hispanics have been identifying themselves as white. More than half of Hispanics – more than 29 million, in fact – ticked “white” as well as “Hispanic” in the 2010 census. And here’s something else that happened: One million people who ticked Hispanic and white in 2000 did not tick Hispanic at all in 2010. They became non-Hispanic white. The liberal commentator Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox last year that such a trend has “implications for projections about American becoming majority-minority and other such matters. Racial and ethnic identities are plastic and subject to change.”

If you’re Ruy Teixeira or John Judis or John Podesta, sitting in your office quietly envisioning a majority-minority country that will give you winning liberal coalitions late into the 21st century, the actions of these wayward Hispanics gives you heartburn.

#related#There are, to say the least, disagreements over whether creating and perpetuating such national division is a good thing. There is for example, the view expressed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who in the 1993 decision in Shaw v. Reno (1993) wrote that redistricting “bears an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid. . . . Racial gerrymandering, even for remedial purposes, may balkanize us into competing racial factions; it threatens to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race no longer matters.” In Holder v. Hall (1994), Justice Clarence Thomas said similarly that “our drive to segregate political districts by race can only serve to deepen racial divisions by destroying any need for voters or candidates to build bridges between racial groups or to form voting coalitions.”

So the deep racial division which is so obvious at the end of Obama’s term is no accident. It is the legacy of a president who did much to foster it. The view that groups, not individuals, have distinct interests has taken its predictable toll. The social splintering has only begun.


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