In one of last year’s most disappointing decisions, a divided Supreme Court gave the green light to the University of Texas to continue using racial preferences to admit a “more diverse” student body and thereby supposedly bring about a better educational environment. That case, Fisher v. Texas, is done but there will no doubt be other challenges to the legitimacy of using racial categories to favor and disfavor students based on their group. Before the next case is decided, let’s hope the justices read a terribly revealing book, Almost Black, by Vijay Chokal-Ingam.
It’s the book about the efforts of a student of Indian ancestry (the subcontinent, not Native American) who didn’t have the academic profile to get into medical school as an Asian, but realized that he had a good chance if he pretended to be black. In a recent Pope Center article, John Rosenberg writes about the book and its message.
Most of the admissions officials at the med schools to which Vijay (then going by JoJo) applied were taken in and the fact that his family was very well-to-do (“privileged!” in today’s jargon) didn’t matter. He would help fill a racial quota and that got him on some wait lists and accepted at St. Louis University. Only one admissions official saw through Vijay’s ruse and upbraided him for pretending to be a “minority” applicant. The University of Wisconsin said it might waive its state residency requirement to get him.
Vijay writes that he did not undertake this to make a “social revolutionary” point. He just wanted to get into medical school. But, Rosenberg concludes, the escapade taught him something important: “He learned that he actually stands for something — the principle that it is wrong to award burdens or benefits based on race.”
Why should it matter whether the applicant was Indian Vijay (“too many of your kind here already”) or black JoJo? It was the same wealthy kid who had (by his own admission) goofed off as an undergraduate. It’s only because of our ridiculous diversity mania that faking your group identity can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.