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Should our race be private?

By J. Bradley Jansen
web posted May 20, 2002

California has long been a trendsetter for the country on a host of issues. In my opinion, some of those Left Coast-generated trends have been very good (the tax revolt) and others less so (the sushi craze). Now the state is again putting itself at the forefront by taking on the issue of racial preferences. Where will California lead and will we-and should we--follow?

At issue is the Racial Privacy Initiative. The RPI would amend the state constitution by adding the following paragraph: "The state shall not classify any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment."

Ward Connerly
Connerly

The central idea behind the RPI is to promote a color-blind rights policy by the government. Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Institute is leading the charge. The Sacramento-based institute is a national civil rights organization created to educate the public about racial and gender preferences. This is the same organization credited for successfully ending race-based quotas for admissions to California's state universities.

Common sense does prevail among the promoters of the RPI. Exemptions are made for public health and law enforcement issues for example. It also adds, "Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as invalidating any valid consent decree or court order which is in force as of the effective date of this section."

Some concerned people argue that we need this racial data collection by the government to root out racism. Such arguments rely on a faulty premise and false empiricism in addition to being largely stuck in some time warp of a previous period in American history. James A. Landrith, Jr., editor and publisher of The Multiracial Activist and The Abolitionist Examiner takes a different approach:

"Many people believe that abolishing these categories will allow 'racism' to multiply unchecked. These alarmists want people to believe that abolishing the categories will bring back the horrors of Jim Crow. I believe those people are wrong. I believe that continuing to force people into little boxes for the purpose of fighting 'racism' is intellectually bankrupt and a form of collectivist intolerance. These nasty little boxes were designed from day one to keep people separated for the purpose of ensuring legislative power in slave states. The very idea that these categories have the magical power to end "racism" is a perverse concept when you consider the reason they originally came into being. You cannot fight 'racism' while simultaneously promoting the concept of different 'racial' classifications."

Mr. Landrith serves on the steering committee of the Racial Privacy Initiative. In a nutshell, the RPI puts an end to the race box on government forms. For this reason, the defenders of the racial data collection are concerned. Their concern stems from their fear of their inability to constantly make race an issue and, for some of the groups, because it threatens their ability to scare businesses and others into funding them.

Then-Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Phil Gramm took on the same special interests in another issue a few years ago and rightly labeled them "extortionists." The self-serving cry of "donate money to us or we'll call you racist" is a poor way for our society to order itself. Such approaches are as destructive to the ideal of a colorblind rights based society as they are to the targeted populations which suffer the high marginal cost of such extortion and other regulatory burden without seeing most of the benefits in their communities that the groups lavish on themselves.

Our Federal credit application policies are schizophrenic. The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act requires the collection of race and other data during the mortgage finance application process. The mortgage bankers and brokers are even required by law to mark what box they think you are based on physical characteristics, surname, etc. even when an individual affirmatively marks the box expressing their desire not to disclose such information.

On the other hand, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits those same bankers and others from collecting the same data for non-mortgage credit applications. Just for fun, go to your local bank or credit union with your political representative and ask for and fill out both a credit card and home loan application at the same time. Our political leaders need a real world lesson in the effects of their policies.

While I never really did understand the lure of eating raw fish, I do hope California voters will show us the better path to take and end the "nasty little boxes." Our race and ethnicity should be as private as we want them to be.

J. Bradley Jansen is Deputy Director of the Center for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

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