Politics & Policy

Separation of Race and State

An alternative to ethnic bean counting.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s racial bean counters are about to open a brand-new bag of garbanzos. For the 1990 census, the bureau sorted Americans into five ethnic categories: white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific islander, and American Indian/Alaska native. After 10 years and the stewardship of the Clinton-Gore crowd, those distinctions have grown larger than Jack’s proverbial beanstalk.

The bureau, for starters, created a new “Native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander” designation. More important, it accepted the arguments of mixed-race citizens and allowed Americans to “mark one or more races” on last year’s census forms. Consequently, the bureau soon will quantify Americans in the six single races plus 15 combinations of two of the above, 20 mixtures of three, 15 blends of four, six groupings of five, and, as the March 2 Wall Street Journal noted, one amalgam of all half-dozen categories: “White-Black-Asian-American Indian or Alaska Native-Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander-Some Other Race.”

But wait. There’s more.

These 63 ethnic varieties can be split further between those who also are Hispanic or non-Hispanic. This yields 126 distinct ways in which government can classify, catalog, and control America’s population.

The good news is that the ethnocrats at the Office of Management and Budget who concocted this scheme may have outsmarted themselves. This unwieldy monstrosity eventually may cause federal race schemes to stall. The bad news is that politicians and race hustlers will steer this contraption until its last piston misfires.

Expecting them to do so honestly may be asking too much. As so often happens with matters of race, deceit abounds. The OMB, for instance, decided last year — in truly Clintonian fashion — to have it both ways. As United Press International’s Steve Sailer reported, while Americans who considered themselves mixed were free to check off, say, the boxes for black and white, OMB chose to ignore the white boxes. As an OMB bulletin declared: “Responses that combine one minority race and white are [to be] allocated to the minority race.”

This resurrection of the Jim Crow era’s “one-drop” rule will have fascinating repercussions, Sailer predicted. “People who are so slightly black that they identified themselves before as white, will now be counted as only being black.” By cynically and artificially assigning citizens of mixed-race backgrounds solely to minority categories, OMB magically can inflate the apparent number of minorities in a given locale. This will supply federal, state, and local officials with abundant raw materials for mischief, ranging from redistricting to set-asides to college admissions.

The Federal Reserve Board, for example, encourages banks to ask loan applicants about their racial backgrounds. If they refuse to answer, loan officers may guess the ethnicities of their potential customers. This is a chilling way to address possibly discriminatory banking practices that likely involve the risks of lending to people with low incomes rather than high melanin, per se.

UPI’s Sailer cited the case of a Polish-born radio station buyer named Liberman. The Federal Communications Commission granted him a hefty tax break after he convinced them that he was Hispanic. And why not? Some of his forebears were Sephardic Jews who were booted from Spain during the Inquisition of 1492.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles rapid transit system has given $19 million in minority subcontracts to Jon McGrath, a fair-skinned, blue-eyed railroad builder who is 1/64 Cherokee.

The alternative to this squalid public policy is simple: the separation of race and state.

Government simply should stop counting Americans by race. Uncle Sam has no business asking people how many Jews, Catholics, or Unitarians inhabit a particular home or occupy a given office. Querying as much would trigger claxons at the ACLU and People for the American Way. The state likewise should leave ethnographic studies to professors and pollsters. Agencies with police powers have wreaked havoc at home and abroad when they stop respecting citizens as individuals and instead handle them as members of competing tribes.

If it is wrong for a cop to eye a black man and consider him a criminal, it is equally wrong for a congressman to see that same black man and regard him as disadvantaged without even speaking with him. From employment to education and contracting, public officials routinely subject minorities and whites alike to such political acts of racial profiling.

Step one in the separation of race and state is to ditch the ethnic beans. The 126 different piles into which authorities divide citizens are 125 too many. We’re all Americans. A just government simply would count on that.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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