In the mid-’90s, around the time Elizabeth Warren’s name was appearing on a list of minority law professors, I was applying for entry-level reporting jobs at dozens of newspapers. In a few cases — one of which involved a summer job at a paper tartly critical of affirmative action — something odd happened. First came the nibble of interest; later, the bashful questions: What, exactly, was my ethnic background? Perhaps I’d like to be considered for a minority internship?
At the time, I was in my early 20s, underemployed, and eager to please. But did I qualify? It was hard to say. One of my parents is Filipino; the other is white; my surname is Spanish. Still, I disliked the implication that my dull, dutiful stories, which I’d clipped to my resume, were suddenly fascinating if their author were less ambiguously ethnic. What grated most — what steered me away from these strange, unbidden opportunities — was that no one asked: Are you actually disadvantaged in some way? Does your ethnicity relate in any way to what you’ve written?