What’s an URM and Who Is One?

The recent flap over Elizabeth Warren’s claimed Cherokeeness has both raised and obscured a question at the core of debates over affirmative action: just who should receive the preferential treatment it bestows?

The standard answer to that question preferred by those who support
the current regime of racial preference is “underrepresented minority,”
or URM, a term they think has the benefit of disguising their
determination to award privileged treatment based squarely on race and
ethnicity. New demographic data, however, now calls that designation
into question and suggests that the preferentialists may need to devise a
new dissimulation.

Along with other newspapers, the Wall Street Journal has just published (May 17) an article declaring that “Minority Births Are New Majority.” For the first time in U.S. history, it reports, “whites of European ancestry account for less than half of newborn children, marking a demographic tipping point that is already changing the nation’s politics, economy and workforce.” A good deal of that change has long been evident in California, where according to the 2010 census non-Hispanic whites make up only 40.1% of the population.

A surprise only to those who don’t follow the issue closely, whites have also long been a minority at the University of California. Provisional data for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011 recently released by the president’s office of the University of California, combined with data previously available for 1997 through 2007, make it clear that not only are whites a minority but a rapidly dwindling minority in the UC system. (Freshmen entering in 2007 were the last class admitted when racial preferences were still legal.)

 

2007 Admits

2011 Admits

White

40.8%

30.6%

Asian

33%

36%*

Chicano/Latino

14.1%

26%

Black

3.8%

4.1%

*Asians are an even higher proportion at the more selective campuses: 46.2% at UCSD, 44% at Berkeley, 43.2% at UCLA

These numbers say several important things, quite loudly and clearly. First, anyone who claims (as many supporters of affirmative action frequently do) that prohibiting racial preference will result in “resegregation” and that those who favor colorblindness do so out of a racist desire to benefit whites are — at best and giving them the benefit of the doubt — woefully uninformed.

Perhaps even more significant, however, data such as the above reveal that the term “underrepresented minority” has become useless as a description of individuals who receive preferential treatment. Indeed, whites (40.1% of the California population), Hispanics (37.6%), and blacks (6.2%) are all “underrepresented” in the UC system. Only Asians are not “underrepresented.”

If defenders of racial preference insist on continuing to describe their preference programs as seeking to increase the number of URMS, perhaps those of us critical of that discrimination should insist with equal fervor on a new and more precise descriptive terminology: B-URMS, H-URMS, and W-URMS.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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