You are here

Back to top

Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America (Hardcover)

Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America Cover Image


A call for the separation of race and state, backed by a deep dive into the surreal world of racial classification in America.

“The racial categories that the schools use are completely bonkers, an arbitrary mess mostly left over from the work of federal bureaucrats in the 1970s that can’t withstand the slightest scrutiny. The administrators who rely on these categories are beholden to senseless and unscientific distinctions—they aren’t even competent or rational racialists. Justice Samuel Alito raised this issue in the arguments, pretty clearly relying on the work of George Mason University professor David Bernstein, who eviscerated the categories in an amicus brief and has written a book on their origin and implications, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America.

National Review

Americans are understandably squeamish about official racial and ethnic classifications. Nevertheless, they are ubiquitous in American life. Applying for a job, mortgage, university admission, citizenship, government contracts, and much more involves checking a box stating whether one is Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American.

While reviewing the surprising history of American racial classifications, Classified raises questions about the classifications’ coherence, logic, and fairness; for example:

• Should Pakistani, Chinese, and Filipino Americans be in the same category despite their obvious differences in culture, appearance, religion, and more?
• Why does the government not allow Americans to classify themselves as bi- or multi-racial?
• How did the government decide that a dark-complexioned, burka-wearing Muslim Yemini should be classified as generically white, but a blond-haired, blue-eyed immigrant from Spain should be classified as Hispanic and treated as a member of a minority group?
• Why does the government require biomedical researchers to classify study participants by the official racial categories, when the classifications have no scientific basis?

In an increasingly diverse society with high rates of intergroup marriage, the American system of racial classification is getting even more arbitrary and absurd. With rising ethno-nationalism threatening democracy around the world, it’s also dangerous. Classified argues that the time has come to consider abolishing official racial classification and replace it with the separation of race and state.

About the Author

David E. Bernstein holds a University Professorship chair at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, where he has been teaching since 1995. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, Georgetown University, William & Mary, Brooklyn Law School, and the University of Turin.

Known as a fearless contrarian, Professor Bernstein often challenges the conventional wisdom with prodigious research and sharp, original analysis. His book Rehabilitating Lochner was praised across the political spectrum as “intellectual history in its highest form,” a “fresh perspective and a cogent analysis,” “delightful and informative,” “sharp and iconoclastic,” “well-written and destined to be influential,” and “a terrific work of historical revisionism.” Professor Bernstein blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy (the leading law professor blog) and at Professor Bernstein is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he was senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and a John M. Olin Fellow in Law, Economics, and Public Policy.

Professor Bernstein is married and has three children of mixed Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Spanish-Jewish origin. He prefers not to classify them.

Praise For…

“The nation urgently needs what David E. Bernstein here provides: a lucid explanation of the long and tangled intersection of racial classifications and the law. With the intellectual boldness and clarity that he brought to Rehabilitating Lochner, he points to a path from today’s tensions to a less angry, more sophisticated future.”
— George F. Will

“A thorough, careful, magisterial work on a subject that’s both of great practical and great theoretical importance in modern American law; highly recommended.”
— Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law.

“Chief Justice John Roberts has called our racial sorting system a ‘sordid business.’ In Classified, David Bernstein provides the sordid details. What began as a government effort to combat discrimination now serves mainly to advance political agendas and stoke racial resentment. Well-researched and clearly written, Classified explains how we got into this mess and why a rethinking of official racial and ethnic categories is long overdue.”
— Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal columnist and author of "Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell"

“David E. Bernstein’s excellent book—Classified:  The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America—exposes the full extent of what we all should have known: When governments dispense benefits based on race and ethnicity, the conflict over which groups should receive those benefits and which individuals qualify as members of those groups will be never-ending.”
— Gail Heriot, Professor of Law, University of San Diego, and Member, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

“David Bernstein has written an illuminating, thoughtful, and often troubling book about the history of racial classifications in American law. This history underscores the validity of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dictum that ‘experience,’ rather than ‘logic,’ dictates the actual development of law, for Bernstein demonstrates the extent to which the adoption of racial (or, more commonly ‘ethnic’) classifications has been responsive far more to systematic political pressures rather than the application of a coherent overarching theory. Even (or especially) supporters of ‘affirmative action,’ as I ambivalently continue to be, will benefit enormously from confronting the material that Bernstein carefully presents. It truly deserves a wide readership and, just as importantly, respectful discussion.”
— Sanford Levinson, W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair, University of Texas Law School and author of "Wrestling with Diversity"

“We mock the racial-classifications schemes of the Jim Crow south, of Nazi Germany, and of Apartheid South Africa. But as David Bernstein ably demonstrates, our own racial classification system is just as risible, and no more scientific.”
— Glenn Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, founder of

“David E. Bernstein proves ably and conclusively that the familiar legal classifications for racial and ethnic groups used by the federal and state governments, census-takers, medical regulators, racial-preference dispensers, and others are arbitrary to an extreme.”
— Stuart Taylor, contributing editor, National Journal, and coauthor, "Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It"

Product Details
ISBN: 9781637581735
ISBN-10: 1637581734
Publisher: Bombardier Books
Publication Date: July 19th, 2022
Pages: 208
Language: English

What We're Listening To


Babel by R. F. Kuang  Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman Butts by Heather Radke The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman