What color are you? Black? White? Brown? Yellow? None of my concern, you say? If so, why is your ethnicity the government’s business?
Political activist Ward Connerly expects to ask California voters that very question. He has secured 980,283 petition signatures for his Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), 309,467 more than required to qualify for the November 5 ballot.
”I want to extricate the government from categorizing people,” Connerly said recently. RPI largely would prevent state agencies from asking about and acting upon the racial makeup of its residents. By denying ethnic bean counters their garbanzos, RPI would strike a mighty blow for color neutrality.
Connerly, a University of California regent, wants to stop state-sponsored bias in college admissions. He says: “When we give a preference to a Latino applicant over an Asian to compensate for what a white student’s ancestor did to a black applicant’s ancestor, your head starts to spin.”
U.C.’s nosy admissions application is similarly dizzying. Candidates are asked to pigeonhole themselves among 14 ethnic boxes. The “Pacific Islander” category presumably excludes whites from Australia, the Pacific’s biggest island. The “white/Caucasian” identity “Includes Middle Eastern.” Of course, someone of Egyptian stock could be white, by this definition, and “African-American/black” since Egypt is in Africa. Students from Bombay and Karachi must share an “East Indian-Pakistani” box, something sadly laughable these days.
U.C. also offers “restricted scholarship programs.” While some target, say, potential agronomy students, others are limited to those within specific “ethnicity, national origin or religion” groups. Applicants are encouraged to seek discriminatory, government-administered grants for people matching 37 different descriptions, among them:
‐”Student’s ancestors from Pop Yup, China”
Private campuses have a First Amendment, free association right to subsidize every Pop Yuppie, if they wish. But government schools may not do so since Americans legally are created equal.
U.C. Berkeley’s liberal school paper recognized this when it endorsed RPI. “The only thing state racial categorization does is perpetuate the mentality that race alone defines people,” an unsigned editorial declared in the April 23 Daily Californian.
RPI would prohibit such classification of “any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment.” There would be exceptions for policing, medical research or where existing court orders or federal law take precedence.
Critics worry that RPI will fuel illegal discrimination. However, under the proposal, “the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing could use racial classifications to take reports of discrimination, investigate those claims and prosecute discriminatory acts involving public and private employers and landlords,” explains Kevin Nguyen, executive director of the American Civil Rights Coalition, RPI’s sponsors.
Another concern is that RPI will prevent California from gathering statistics that illustrate minority progress and thus undermine ethnic victimology. But Connerly sees no need to choose between knowledge and justice. Private scholars and individual state university professors could collect ethnic data, even if public bodies couldn’t.
Connerly observes that “If someone asked, ‘How many Jews work in that building?’ or ‘How many gays work there?’ the government would say: ‘If you really want to know, go ahead and ask. But don’t expect us to do your research.’” Overworked social scientists may bear the burden for racial equality.
Connerly promoted the 1996 California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI). It bars state government from discrimination or preference on the basis of race, sex or nationality in public employment, education and contracting. CCRI won 55 percent of the vote, survived court challenges and has inspired a similar law in Washington state and pending legislation in New Hampshire. (Related measures have failed in other states including Colorado, Florida, and Ohio.)
Ward Connerly’s energy, courage, and tenacity likely will propel RPI to victory. In a May 1 Field Poll of 546 likely California voters, it already lead 48 percent to 34 percent (+/- 4.5 percent). Should it prevail, this idea surely will spread, like CCRI and the tax revolt that Proposition 13 unleashed in 1978. If so, America will approach the glorious day when officials will treat people not as members of rival tribes but simply as citizens.