The Volokh Conspiracy

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Are Iranian-Americans Presumptively "Socially Disadvantaged"?

No, the Small Business Administration has found

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Small Business Administration has programs that favor "socially disadvantaged" business owners. Under the relevant law, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians (but not Asians from west of India), and members of federally-recognized tribes are presumptively socially disadvantaged. The SBA has the authority to recognize additional groups. In the late 1980s, an Iranian-American group petitioned for the SBA to recognize Iranian-Americans as presumptively socially disadvantaged, based on the hostility they face due to their skin color and hostility to Iran. The petition was denied. The SBA found that any hostility to Iranian-Americans was primarily political, and such hostility does not constitute social disadvantage within the meaning of the law:

The Small Business Act and the conference report to the 8(a) authorizing legislation, Public Law 95–507, define social disadvantage in terms of racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias. No mention is made of politically motivated bias being a cause for 8(a) group eligibility. See H.R.Rep. No. 1714, 95th Cong., 2d Sess. 20–23, reprinted in 1978 U.S.CODE CONG. & ADMIN.NEWS 3879, 3881–3884. Animosity toward a group of persons based on political events cannot constitute "ethnic or racial prejudice or cultural bias" within the meaning of the law. Such a posture seems reasonable when the consequences of admitting a group based on political affiliation or bias because of that affiliation are considered. If such were the case, then any group that espoused an unpopular political belief could successfully petition the SBA for minority group status. That is clearly not the intent of Public Law 95–507.

The distinction between "ethnic" and "cultural" bias and the bias faced by Iranian-Americans eludes me, and of course any "political bias" faced by Iranians is not because any particular Iranian-Americans espouses unpopular beliefs, but because of ethnic stereotypes of what Iranians are thought to believe. Nevertheless, the law of ethnic preferences is filled with arbitrary classifications, and this is just one of them.

One recurring issue is whether being of Spanish descent, by itself, is sufficient to qualify one as socially disadvantaged. Some administrative law judges have denied "Hispanic" status based on "Northern European" appearance, birth certificates designating the applicant as white, lack of fluency in Spanish, and lack of ties to the Hispanic community. Other ALJs have ruled that none of those factors may even be considered once the applicant has established that he is of Spanish descent and is therefore of "Hispanic origin" within the literal meaning of the statute.

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19 responses to “Are Iranian-Americans Presumptively "Socially Disadvantaged"?

  1. Interesting. I’d note that the alleged bias against black voters in many of the current voting rights cases appears to be primarily politically motivated as well.

  2. The SBA does allow individuals who aren’t members of one of the groups to claim the status by demonstrating that they are disadvantaged in a similar manner. I’d guess that “political discrimination” isn’t sufficient for a blanket ban because it could easily go away within a few years, through normal political change, while many ethnic discrimination barriers can remain for generations. The resistance to change that infects bureaucracy makes it unattractive, no less so since Japanese, Indian, Singaporean, Taiwanese, and Chinese are distinctly advantaged populations in the US but are still considered disadvantaged by the SBA.

    1. I’d love to find the original petition; I can’t imagine that it relied soley on political bias against Iran, and didn’t also note that Iranians often have dark skin and a “Middle Eastern” look that also subjects them to prejudice.

  3. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

    1. Hold on now! You don’t understand!! This is way more complicated than that!!

  4. Wait a minute, I’ve lost track. Does that mean they can post “IT’S OKAY TO BE PERSIAN” signs on a college campus or would that be a hate crime?

  5. Is King Juan Carlos socially disadvantaged? Julio Iglesias? El Chapo?

    1. Carlos Slim?

    2. The king probably is; he has no job skills.

      1. JACK DONAGHY: That is not an all white county club. What about Johnny Carlos? He’s ethnic.

        LEN WOZNIAK: He’s the King of Spain, Jack. I don’t think he counts.

    1. Thanks. Can’t find any media coverage beyond the initial petition, nor any response from SBA, though I know they didn’t add Iranians.

  6. Good illustration of the cesspool “affirmative action” is, the last paragraph in particular.

    1. Not just affirmative action. It’s just about everything a government does, and the bureaucratic response to problems being to create new problems.

  7. I can’t wait until this crap all gets declared unconstitutional.

  8. I grew up in New Mexico in the 1950s and 60s. At that time, there were only four “racial” categories on birth certificates. In true New Mexico style, the certificates didn’t list any fancy sociological options for a baby’s race, just colors: White, Red, Yellow, and Black. If you study these categories for a moment, you’ll realize one color is missing: Brown. Babies in that missing color comprised at least 25 to 35 percent of the births in the state. By consensus, they were always put into the “White” category.

    1. ” By consensus, they were always put into the “White” category.”

      Weird, Red includes most Hispanics, its the Indian ancestry that makes an Hispanic “Brown”, an Hispanic with none [or little] is “white”

      Of course many “Blacks” are more brown colored, some even tan. Whites are off white/cream/dark tan, not White.

      Race is a very confusing thing. Best to get beyond it.

      1. Yup. Race is a myth in terms of biology. It exists purely as a social construct.

        Here is a fun trivia question. Was in a lecture sitting next to my fellow student and lab partner. The lecturer turned to us and asked me “does she have more melanin or more melanocytes?” I guessed wrong.

  9. Sephardim are Hispanic, nu?

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