University of California regent Ward Connerly’s new “Racial Privacy Initiative,” which last month qualified for the March 2004 ballot, would bar the California government from asking citizens what their race is. These days, even the government admits it’s hard to tell anyone’s race. One of the nation’s hottest movie stars, “XXX” hunk Vin Diesel, militantly refuses to reveal his racial background, except to say he’s “multicultural.” But if Diesel wanted to attend most universities or apply for any kind of government assistance, he’d be forced to break his silence and check a box, or boxes.
Defenders of racial checklists note that the current census has been liberalized to let citizens to choose from among 63 racial and ethnic categories — although there is no obvious reason for stopping at 63, and there is no constitutional basis for asking the race question at all. The constitutional rationale for the census is to count heads for the purpose of determining congressional districts. Since congressional districts are not determined on the basis of race or ethnicity there is no justification for such questions.
Connerly’s campaign is another stage in his crusade to free Americans from the racial albatross, an agenda he has described as an effort to “eliminate racial profiling.” This agenda has provoked a frenzy of opposition from the usual racial reactionaries — the NAACP, the ACLU and the entire “civil rights” coalition, who simply can’t imagine life without racial categories. The same coalition opposed Connerly’s Prop 209 campaign and was eventually proven wrong in every hysterical particular of the arguments they used to oppose it. Women were not stripped of their rights, as the anti-Connerly coalition had warned. Minority enrollment dipped, then climbed again. African-American enrollment is still down from where it was when it was artificially bolstered by affirmative action, but maybe the continued struggles of black students to meet high educational standards will force some attention to the corrupt educational bureaucracy in most inner city school districts.
Now that same old coalition is arguing that Connerly’s new initiative will cripple anti-discrimination laws. This is just a new twist to the old hysteria. Anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals will not be affected at all. Pseudo-anti-discrimination laws that provide racial preferences and privilege for politically anointed groups will.
But Connerly’s latest campaign has also thrown some cooler heads into an ideological tizzy. For example, Peter Beinart, the usually astute editor of the New Republic, had this to say about Connerly in a TRB column:
“[Connerly's anti-racial profiling slogan] should strike you as odd. In fact, it suggests just how schizophrenic conservative rhetoric on race has become. On the one hand, conservatives blithely endorse Connerly’s initiative as the natural extension of their longstanding battle against racial preferences. On the other, since Sept. 11, conservatives have unceremoniously junked the very principle on which all that anti-affirmative action crusading rests: color blindness. When it comes to Arabs and the war on terrorism, conservatives don’t want to “eliminate racial profiling” at all. They want the ACLU and all the other politically correct guilt-mongers to get out of the way and let the government start practicing it. In its writing on affirmative action and its writing on homeland security, the American right is engaged in a dialogue of the deaf — with itself. ”