Looking Like America

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The Look Like America bill, originally H.R. 1533, seemed a perfectly ordinary piece of feel-good legislation when proposed by Barack Osama Obama. “Our diversity is our strength,” he said. “We must increase the representation of minorities in our institutions to reflect our diverse population and ensure the fairness for which America stands.” Congress passed the bill without reading it. It was the sort of thing one passed. Besides, there was no money involved, and the bill was not obviously anti-Semitic.

Not obviously. But then one of the obscure policy shops that abound in Washington, the Committee for Ethnic Piety, filed suit against Harvard for noncompliance. The proximate cause was an article in the Harvard Crimson, the school newspaper, about a course called Math 55, the hardest math course at the university and thus, Harvard liked to think, in America. The students in Math 55, reported the Crimson, were 45 percent Jewish, 18 percent Asian, and 100 percent male. The class didn’t, said the Committee for Ethnic Piety, look like America.

It certainly didn’t.

Harvard, ever sensitive to questions of justice, which it conflated with federal funding, agreed to make the class Look Like America. The administration asserted that only through inadvertence had it failed to notice the clear racism, sexism, and continent-ism occurring under its nose. It established a committee of reform, which set to work.

The first and most ticklish hurdle was The Jewish Question. Jews were two percent of the American population. At 45 percent in Math 55, they were over-represented by a factor of over twenty. The injustice was undeniable. Two percent of a class of twenty-five meant that Math 55 should contain half a Jew. It would then look like America. The Jewish students would have to go.

As news of the proposed ethnographic hecatomb spread across the country, alarm erupted among the prejudiced. Over seven hundred departments of engineering across the country protested. They could see where Looking Like America was going. Math departments, Silicon Valley, the National Institutes of Health – all reeked of injustice, meaning Koreans, Jews, Indians, and Chinese, and were conscious of sin. They didn’t Look Like America. They Looked Like Math 55. In the Bay area, the proportion of geniuses from India in computing was alarmingly high. Some laboratories Looked Like the Punjab. These malefactors knew well that the coming of justice would gut their enterprises.

Desperate to maintain their positions of racial and patriarchal privilege, they pointed out that the Jewish kids, like all the students in Math 55, had 800 math Boards and had done things like independently develop tensor calculus by the age of three. The view from the Gulch was expressed off-the-record by Dr. Gud Soma Darjeeling, president of Santa Clara Neurocomputing, which employed seventy PhDs in solid-state physics, including three Anglos. “Look, the US is in intellectual collapse. The average American university wouldn’t qualify as a high-school in Japan. It’s crazy. The whole world know it’s crazy. But take out the Kims, Khans, Nguyens, Wangs, and Cohens, and what’s left is Albania in 1750.”

The lead attorney for CEP, Patricia Mikoyan-Gurevich, wasn’t having it.

“Ability doesn’t exist, and occurs equally in all groups, and anyway justice is more important than patriarchal-racist abstractions. Sexism is clear at Harvard. When an entire class is male, it isn’t by accident.”

With this, no one was in disagreement.

Asians were as problematic as Jews. If a Jewish population of two percent required half a Jew in a class of twenty-five, then a six percent population of Asians required an Asian-and-a-half. Various solutions were proposed. Perhaps a short, lightweight Gujarati would do, or maybe a prodigy of ten from Mumbai. Otherwise, admitting three Asians every two years might serve.

The paucity of females in Math 55 was easier to address. Harvard had already established that there was no difference in mathematical ability by firing a president who thought there might be. Since ability didn’t exist and was found equally in everyone, the sexual balance was quickly rendered equitable by eliminating entrance requirements.

Harvard then set about the intricate matter of making the class thirteen percent black, sixteen percent Hispanic, a tenth of a percent Iroquois, and so on.

Meanwhile, CEP turned its attention to the lush pastures of music. The New York Philharmonic, being in New York, was discovered to consist disproportionately of Italians, Jews, Hungarians, and so on. It Looked Like New York, which wouldn’t do. The American Association of the Musically Hopeless, consisting of the deaf, tone-deaf, mutes, and amputees, filed suit on grounds that their membership was not represented at all. (They carefully overlooked the fact that they were over-represented among rock bands.) This brought up an important juridical question: Since most Americans could not play an instrument, should not the orchestra reflect this?

Thirteen years after the passage of the Look Like America bill, the United States ranked in international measures of mathematics just behind the Central African Republic, the New York Phil couldn’t play Happy Birthday, and racial and sexual justice flourished. Yet the vexed problem of Math 55 had not been entirely solved. Progress had been made, yes. The class looked almost like America, counting on its fingers and showing no trace of patriarchalism, which in any event it couldn’t spell. However, CEP’s Committee on Oppressed and Marginalized Indigenous Peoples of Color noted that the class contained no student from oppressed peoples of the Amazon rain forest. CEP regarded national boundaries as essentially phallic, since they were longer than they were wide, and thus beneath notice.

Harvard, distraught at finding yet another instance of its institutional racism, cast about for a suitable indigene.

After a laborious search the university discovered Wunxputl, a member of the Tloxyproctyl tribe of the Amazon Basin, consisting of twelve people who lived on yams and the flesh of the Three-Toed Sloth. Wunxputl was at Wellesley, where he served in a minor administrative position that had no responsibilities. He had been brought there seven years earlier by the anthropology department, so it could atone for White Guilt. It didn’t matter that Wellesley was guilty of nothing. The atonement was a pleasant form of narcissism, allowing the faculty to congratulate themselves on their moral purity.

Harvard arranged with Wellesley to borrow Wunxputl for three minutes every seven years, which it had calculated would satisfy the demands of ethnic proportionality. Justice, at last, had been achieved.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Bem, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.

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