“I’m a certified black man.”


A Seattle man who claims to be 4 percent black based on a home DNA ancestry test ​is suing the federal government for denying him minority business owner status.


Ralph Taylor identified as Caucasian until 2010, when an AncestryByDNA test told him he was actually 90 percent European, 6 percent Native American and 4 percent sub-Saharan African, as first reported by the ​Seattle Times last month.


Last November, armed with the test results, the 55-year-old insurance agent updated his birth certificate to reflect his newfound identity. While he looks Caucasian, he is now legally black, Native American and Caucasian.


But the federal government isn't buying Taylor's identity as a minority, prompting an intellectual debate and a legal battle.


“I’m a certified black man,” he told The Washington Post last week. “I’m certified black in all 50 states. But the federal government doesn’t recognize me.”

It all started back in 2013, when Taylor used his black and native American ethnicity to apply for state certification with the Washington Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE). 


The state first denied Taylor minority business owner status, which would help his business, Orion Insurance Group, nab government contracts. He appealed the decision and, since the agency doesn't have set guidelines on how to visibly identity minorities, his application was approved in March 2014.


Then, Taylor applied for a similar federal-level program with the US Department of Transportation. The agency, which is also managed by OMWBE, asked him for more proof of his black and Native American ethnicity.


To prove his minority status, Taylor said he was a member of the NAACP, subscribed to Ebony magazine and was interested in black social issues. He also provided the agency with a copy of a black woman's death certificate who died in 1916, but he couldn't prove they were related because, he claimed, many records were burned during the Civil War. 


Taylor also couldn't prove his Native American heritage because, according to him, being Native American wasn't acceptable in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia back in the day.


This time, he was rejected.


“It is nonsensical for Mr. Taylor to claim that he has encountered social and economic disadvantage due to a heritage he was not aware of until the DNA test conducted in 2010,”  an OMWBE employee wrote in a letter, according to the Seattle Times.


After the rejection, Taylor decided to sue, arguing that it's inconsistent for a state-level program to consider him a disadvantaged minority but not a federal-level one.


The lawsuit against Washington State and the federal government, filed in July 2016, is currently pending with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. It argues that the government's system to determine who is a minority is “impermissibly vague” and could result in “arbitrary and capricious decisions.”


“It’s just not a fair system,” Taylor told the Post. “Hopefully, what comes out of this is that the system is broken.”


While The Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises has not commented on the lawsuit, former spokeswoman Gigi Zenk tyold the Seattle Times that the agency decides who is a minority on a case by case basis.


“We work really hard to be fair. Nothing is just black and white,” she said.


Taylor's case presents a complex dilemma of how race is defined, and how government agencies decide who should get aid because of their minority status.


While home DNA tests have become popular in recent years, their accuracy is ​questioned by many experts. For example, a CBC investigation cited by the Seattle Times found that a Toronto lab determined DNA from a dog was 20% Native American. 


Another question posed by Taylor's case is whether Americans who identify as minorities should get government benefits merely on the basis of being a minority, since not all minority Americans necessarily enjoy less opportunities because of their ethnicity.


As Taylor told the Post, Michael Jordan's son would be considered as "disadvantaged" under the government's current guidelines.


“My forefathers were just as distressed as anyone else’s,” he told The Post. “We all have the ability to come from bad backgrounds.”


Germania is a staff writer at Pluralist.

You can reach her on ​Twitter.