Sunday, February 8, 2015


Let's establish at the outset that I am no fan of Ted Cruz. I think he's a buffoon and, as a key player on Team R, instrumental in the most dangerous intramural scrimmage ever played. But it turns out I am even less of a fan of sanctimony and race-baiting and the tyranny of orthodoxy -- equally so the left-handed variety as the right.

Race, certainly, and even ethnicity are, to a large degree, just social constructs. If you tell 50 people in a room to stand up and arrange themselves from darkest to lightest, you'll get some pretty funny looks* but you also get to observe an interesting phenomenon: Reduce someone's literal place to the single signifier of his skin color, and the light begins to dawn about how much more complex the concept of race really is. Just as interesting -- especially in the United States -- is to ask someone about his ethnicity and listen to the second order algebraic equation that follows. 
There's nothing wrong with this, so long as you let people do it for themselves. Our own idea of our race and ethnicity helps us to fix ourselves in the great, centuries-long parade of human kind. It gives us a context and place from which to view the world. It gives a list of foods we really like. 
Now, I cannot speak in detail to the race or ethnicity of Amy Louise Bardach, who recently posited that Ted Cruz doesn't get to call himself Hispanic because of his politics. But Bardach doesn't sound** especially Latino, and neither -- if that happens to be a married name -- does Amy Louise.*** So I am left to wonder: Where does she get the nerve?
This kind of reductive, aggressive, third-party imposition of identity is beyond offensive. It is the worst variety of the Theory of Ubiquitous Polarity. It is just another stripe of telling people what they are allowed to believe and, in the hands of a powerful institution like The New York Times, or the federal government, or the Central Committee, or the Gestapo****, or any other tyrant, it's damned dangerous.

My wife is white (well, really this kind of amazing cafe con leche color) but clearly Latina. ("Latino" versus "Hispanic" is another discussion.) My boys are white (well, one's sort of tanish-white and the other is a little more beige) and medio-latino. I'm white (well, OK, sorta ruddy, blotchy, freckly white) and half Irish, half German (albeit I was raised in an entirely Czech family, and so identify there as well). None of that changes depending on how any of us vote, anymore than it does if one of my sons suddenly decided he didn't like beans and rice.***** And no editorial writer gets to tell us - or Ted Cruz, for that matter - otherwise.
Doubt me? Here's a simple exercise. Imagine a Wall Street Journal editorial positing that Barack Obama is not really black.

But maybe, before you try that thought experiment, you'd better put on a hard hat.

* I know because I have done exactly that, rather to make this very point to a classroom full of folks who were -- because of another social construct -- largely inclined to do as I asked.

** Como el único gringo en una familia de 150 cubanos, y como residente de 25 años de una de las ciudades más latino en los Estados Unidos, me siento que puedo hablar con experiencia, si no con la autoridad perfecta, sobre el tema. Pero cualquiera que sea mi conjeturo, yo soy de ninguna manera que sugieren que podría o debería imponer una etnia a la Sra Bardach, ni privarlo de su derecho a reclamar lo que uno - o los - ella afirma . De esa manera, somos muy diferentes.

*** And in any event, if it seems offensive to you that I'd speculate at all about her ethnicity, maybe go ahead and check your irony meter for full function.

**** What good is to have Godwin's Law if we cannot break it from time to time?

***** Consider it an argument ad absurdim.

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