Diversity, race, ethnicity, and privilege

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/18/diversity-race-ethnicity-and-privilege/

I am an American. That designation being insufficient for purposes of the diversity-accountants of the modern civil-rights movement, I am a straight, cis-gendered male of European ancestry, particularly Irish. Apparently, this means that I am the product of privilege. I am, in the sense that that I was born into a family with two loving parents, grew up in a nice town with a good public school system, and haven’t been racially profiled (with the exception of a college summer flight from Dublin to London during a period of IRA bombings in England, where I, with my backpack and two weeks’ growth of red beard, was pulled out of line and grilled for 20 minutes on my plans – I survived the encounter).

In the historic-racial-grievance sense, however, I could quibble. For example, at the time of slavery in the United States my ancestors were busy starving to death in Ireland under British subjugation, so it’s not as if I’m sitting on some sort of “Driscoll Cotton Trust.” My grandpa Driscoll, born in 1895, was a walking postman in Medford and Somerville, and though he died when I was young, I recall him regaling us not with stories of hanging out at The Country Club, but rather with stories of getting thrown in the Charles River to learn how to swim. He fought in World War I, but he didn’t talk about it. My Dad, his youngest, went to Boston College on a Marine ROTC scholarship, night law school after fulfilling his service, and had the sense to marry my mother, who held a Masters in Biology (a rarity at that time). As was common in the late 60s and 70s, my mother put her career on hold to raise my sister and me, which is about as big a privilege as a kid can get.

These ancestral biographic tid-bits, you might have noticed, have little to do with race or ethnicity (not nothing to do with race, as many of the opportunities available to my parents would not have been available to African Americans), but more to do with the circumstantial lottery – I was born to parents who in large part had it together. I could well have had parents of the same race or ethnicity who did not, in which case my youth would have been considerably less “privileged” – my race notwithstanding.

In college, I met my eventual wife, a Cuban-American from Miami raised for most of her life by a single Mom (her dad having died very young) and an extended family of Cuban immigrants who fled the Castro regime. Though lacking in financial resources, she too was fortunate to be born into a family that, in general, had it together (her Dad had earned a PhD and was a college professor, her Mom became a nurse, and her grandfather repeated graduate work in Dentistry and Public Health after fleeing Cuba to become a success in the United States). Encouraged by her academically-inclined family, my wife went on to complete a Masters in English, teach English and Spanish at the high school level, work in various positions at our Church, and become a published poet.

So, in today’s diversity, race, and privilege obsessed culture, what to make of our children? Are they children of privilege, because they are white and sunburn on a sunny afternoon? (Although my wife is fair, she does tan, but the kids unfortunately appear to have more of my translucent Irish complexion and legendary need for SPF 50.) Or are they “Hispanic” because they are indeed half-Cuban, and near fluent in Spanish (Mom, Abuela, and “the Miami relatives” as we call them — what a great band name that would be — have made sure of that)?

As our children are both of college application age, the question is not immaterial. Although colleges now claim (to courts and sophisticated audiences) that “diversity” is the legal justification for race- and ethnicity-based admissions decisions, there is a patina of “disadvantage” over every discussion of “diversity” in a college admissions brochure. Race-based decision-making in college admissions is only tolerated by the masses (most of whom would be shocked to know how many “diversity” admits come from more privileged background than their own families) because of the perception that, in a rough sense, colleges are placing a thumb on the scale to make up for disadvantage.

Though having to overcome flawed parenting (fathering in particular), it is a stretch to argue that my children are “disadvantaged,” having grown up with parents with graduate degrees, jobs, and house in a good school district. There is no good reason to judge them against anything other than the highest standards. Yet it is equally inaccurate to characterize them as anything other than Hispanic – having grown up with Cuban relatives, traditions, and immersed in the Spanish language, it is simply part of who they are. They may not be children of Mexican migrant workers from El Paso, but they are Hispanic nonetheless. So what box should they check?

Maybe, just maybe, families like mine, which are becoming more common with each generation, will force the race-and-grievance-industry to recognize that an individual’s story is unique, and that, in most cases, it is that story, rather than the genetics of those who lived it, that is most important.

Robert N. Driscoll

Robert N. Driscoll

Robert N. Driscoll, former Chief of Staff of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, is a native of the Boston area who currently practices law in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his firm. Nor are they the views of his wife, daughters, or greyhounds. Read his past columns here.