In 2014, Ralph Taylor applied to have his insurance company in Washington State certified as a “disadvantaged business enterprise.” The DBE program at the U.S. Department of Transportation was originally designed to help minority- and woman-owned businesses win government contracts. So as proof of his minority status, Taylor submitted the results of a DNA test, estimating his ancestry to be 90 percent European, 6 percent indigenous American, and 4 percent sub-Saharan African.
Government officials reviewing Taylor’s application were not convinced. They saw that he looked white. They noted that he was unable to directly document any nonwhite ancestors. They doubted the underlying validity of the DNA test. And, most relevant to the purpose of the program, they found “little to no persuasive evidence that Mr. Taylor has personally suffered social and economic disadvantage by virtue of being a Black American.” They refused to certify his company. So Taylor decided to sue—out of principle, he says, because other business owners who look white have won DBE certification before. The Seattle Times first reported on the case in detail last week.
Taylor is now challenging how racial groups are defined for this program. “Black Americans,” according to the federal regulations for DBEs,“includes persons having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.” The lawsuit calls this definition “impermissibly vague” and criticizes the lack of “any minimum percentage of DNA, or other objective criterion.” “He considers himself to be Black based upon DNA evidence,” Taylor’s lawyer asserted in a letter included in the lawsuit, which also called DNA “objective” and “unalterable.”