|The Racial Privacy Initiative:
Motherhood and Apple Pie
Stuart H. Hurlbert
The Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI) is one of the best, fairest, wisest, and most far-seeing initiatives that will ever be put before California voters.
As a classically liberal, politically independent, lock-and-load centrist, the welfare of the California Republican Party is not one of my prime concerns. But I and every citizen of California have a debt of gratitude to the California Republican Party for the unanimous decision of its convention delegates last weekend to support the RPI.
If by standing on high principle and aggressively championing the RPI the Republican Party wins for that initiative as many votes from Democrats and political independents as it did for Prop. 209, then more power to the GOP. Its image will be enhanced.
If the Democratic Party wishes to become the champion of pounding millions of bi- and multiracial people in California into those same-old, same-old five boxes, then let it take that stand bravely - and possibly self-destruct.
Some internal Republican blood-letting has already begun, however. Among Republicans, as among Democrats, there remain plenty of separatists, categorizers, and racialists. Two have lost no time in attacking the RPI aggressively.
Tom Wood, one of the original authors of Prop. 209, claims passage of RPI would make it impossible to enforce anti-discrimination laws (CalNews.com, Feb.22). Racial data collection is essential for American society to continue its successful if gradual elimination of unjust racial discrimination, he believes. He is worried that Prop. 209 will become unenforceable; most supporters of Prop. 209 do not believe that. Perhaps he also believes that we will eventually need state forms for religious data collection lest we become impotent to fight religious discrimination.
Wood seems oblivious to the nonsense of the racial categories themselves and to the negative social consequences of their use by governments.
More surprisingly, Wood seems oblivious to the fact that one of the greatest virtues of his own Prop. 209 is that it has smoothed the way for further major steps, such as the RPI, toward the deracialization of society. It is dismaying to see such pessimism in such a fine fellow.
This is all the more disappointing given that Wood talked often about the importance of a 'colorblind' society during the Prop. 209 campaign, and even now he evidences support of it. How are we to achieve this goal unless we take steps to get rid of the odious racial check-boxes?
A cat of a very different color is Republican Raoul Lowery Contreras. He attacks RPI indirectly by heaping venom and falsehood on Ward Connerly (CalNews.com, Feb. 25), architect and chief promoter of the RPI.
Connerly has no right to call himself multiracial (he is) because, Contreras spits out, "society defines him as a Black man by the color of his skin." No society doesn't. Contreras may. Other racists, racialists, one-droppers, and sloppy journalists may. But the decent majority in our society allows him to define and call himself anything he likes - and to check no box, one box or all boxes. Fighting the poison in Contreras's rhetoric is exactly what the RPI is all about.
Contreras seasons his venom with at least three flatly false statements. These are: that "a few years ago [Connerly] couldn't get a home loan from a bank in California because of the color of his skin"; that Connerly "said he didn't care" if Prop. 209 were to become unenforceable; and that Republican State Chairman Shawn Steele "stacked" the Initiatives Committee that unanimously endorsed the RPI.
We are months away from knowing whether the Democratic Party will dare attack the RPI with the same fervor as these renegade Republicans.
But let me spell out several reasons why this initiative is going to win by a large margin, why it will be strongly supported by Democrats, Republicans, and independents. I have been an active promoter of the RPI in San Diego County and discussed it with hundreds of fellow citizens across the whole political spectrum.
1. The standard racial categories are fictions.
Early in its history the human species did differentiate into slightly genetically distinct subpopulations, the boundaries between these being very fuzzy in some parts of the globe, sharper in others. However, these groups began interbreeding a long time ago, especially with the invention of the wheel, domestication of the horse, and building of sea-going boats.
Mixing has accelerated tremendously in recent centuries and decades, especially in countries such as the U.S. to which a wide diversity of people have come or been imported. Dividing lines fuzzy to begin with are now completely blurred.
There are still plenty of people around who look as Irish as Ted Kennedy or as West African as Clarence Thomas or as Japanese as Daniel Inouye. But increasing numbers of them have mixed race grandkids or nieces and nephews. We know what Raoul Contreras wants to do with these kids, but do the rest of us want to participate in such abuse?
Nothing positive can be built on a foundation of fictions. Absolutely nothing.
Our governmental racial classification schemes require the pounding of round pegs into square holes. The schemes originated, in large part, from racist philosophies and mechanisms to keep certain people 'in their place.' These schemes were not invented by the civil rights movement! They are an anathema to it.
2. The self-reporting of racial background is and always has been inaccurate, for a variety of historical, psychological and political reasons.
While census data show only a few percent of the population claiming to be mixed race, the actual proportion probably is about 45-50 percent. The official data banks on racial composition, reflect much about history, social pathologies, and psychology but next to nothing about the actual racial composition of the inventoried populations.
To a very large degree these data banks are garbage. This fact greatly discomforts social scientists, the bean counters in universities and government, and others who have built careers and reputations manipulating racial data. But that is their problem.
3. The unrelenting, daily racial categorization of people by the government is one of the most divisive forces in American society.
It is constantly telling people to decide which fictitious 'tribe' they belong to or are supposed to pledge allegiance to.
It is constantly telling mixed race children that the government wants them to identify with one parent. And that the government, per new regulations of the U.S. Census Bureau, is going to tell them which parent it will be.
It is constantly emphasizing our differences, in opposition to our better instincts that tell us to seek our common interests and common values.
And finally, the resulting racial data seem most useful to the meanest-minded in our society - the racists, the separatists, the race-baiters, the race-card players, the political opportunists, the dishonest manipulators of statistics.
Open any newspaper these days and you will find a story misrepresenting
the significance of racial data - be it on police stops, on health care,
on corporate managers, on income levels, or whatever. With much innuendo
and no serious analysis, naive or biased journalists often spin the story
as just one more instance of American racism. Later careful analysis
almost always finds no evidence of racial discrimination, but that rarely
ever gets reported even on a back page.
4. The RPI will complement beautifully the great social advance achieved with Prop. 209.
The RPI is based on reality, common sense, and the best in the human heart. It is an idea whose time has come.
It poses no serious threat to the goals of Prop. 209; if it did I would be the first to oppose it and do so with vigor. Hastening the demise of government's and society's obsession with race can only hasten the demise of discrimination and preferential treatment.
The situation will be different in every sector. My experience at San Diego State University is that, even after passage of Prop. 209, racial data sometimes have been used to encourage use of racial preferences in hiring, but never to fight discrimination, never to enforce Prop. 209.
Where university admissions offices have given heavy weight to race via a standardized point system, as previously in the University of California and currently in the University of Michigan, the point system itself has been sufficient to establish the existence of discrimination, quite apart from data on racial composition of the entering classes.
In fact, all of the court cases involving Prop. 209 have been decided not on the basis of racial statistics but on the basis of the policies themselves.
With such point systems modified and more use made of subjective, putatively race-blind criteria, there is some room for Prop. 209 to be subverted by administrators so inclined. But it is not much room. Any under-the-table operation will be clumsy, time-expensive, and vulnerable to whistle-blowers.
And few deans of admissions want to be sent back into the trenches to teach freshmen math and writing classes.
Social attitudes on race are changing rapidly. Unlike my pessimist friend, Tom Wood, I think the the ponderous ocean liner of racialism is turning. There remain some antediluvian attitudes in university administrations, in legislatures, and in some over-the-hill special interest organizations. But in society at large there is great hope and readiness for change.
My experience gathering signatures (400+) for the RPI on the San Diego State University campus found it to have strong support across all racial and ethnic groups, both among faculty members and in the student body. I did not anticipate that, but it was joyful to discover.
It is likely that few of the student signers and probably none of the faculty signers were even liberal Republicans, let alone the conservative Republicans that some lazy journalists imagine to be the only supporters of the RPI.
Stuart H. Hurlbert is a Professor of Biology at San Diego State University.
H. Hurlbert is a Professor of Biology at San Diego State University.
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