‘Colorblind’ Privacy Plan Distorts Real California
By LEONARD PITTS
Ward Connerly again.
The notorious University of California regent is back in the headlines. For those who don’t know, Connerly is the black and he would probably disavow that characterization activist who spearheaded the successful 1996 drive to end affirmative action in Golden State government and universities.
Connerly’s latest crusade is the so-called Racial Privacy Initiative, which, if approved by voters, would prohibit the state from collecting most forms of racial data on its citizens. Connerly missed a deadline to get the initiative on this year’s ballot, so California voters won’t decide the issue until 2004. Expect plenty of fireworks between now and then.
As well there should be. Connerly’s latest project is, in some ways, more far-reaching and dangerous than its predecessor. Nor does it take much cogitating to understand why.
California is, by a wide margin, the most populous state in the union. Of 284 million Americans, 12 percent , 34 million , call the state home. Removing California from the mix irreparably compromises any attempt to paint a statistical picture of the United States. If you don’t understand California, you cannot understand America.
Yet that’s precisely what Connerly’s initiative would accomplish. Under this law, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have an informed discussion of the impact of race on migration, education, labor, criminal justice, politics, poverty, home buying, loan seeking, entrepreneurship, unwed motherhood … the list goes on. Is the police department engaged in racial profiling? Are black kids showing improvement in the classroom? Are whites fleeing the state? From the corner diner to the newsroom to the university to the statehouse, it will be harder to have those discussions, harder to quantify perceptions with numbers. Because the numbers will no longer exist.
Why, you may wonder, does Connerly consider this a good thing? Because he thinks it will help produce a colorblind America.
A colorblind America is high on the wish list of many conservatives right up there with two guns in every nightstand and a prayer in every classroom. They bemoan the scourge of hyphenated Americanism and wax eloquent on how much better off we’d be if we were all just Americans, period. If we no longer saw or acknowledged differences in race and culture.
I share their concern over the balkanization of the country. But their frequently proposed solution to that problem that we ignore difference is naive at best. It is also faintly insulting.
I speak from experience, having too frequently encountered white people who wanted me to know they didn’t “see” me as black. Intending a compliment, I suppose. Or maybe a promotion. And each time, I wondered the same thing: Why is my heritage something you have to blind yourself to in order for us to have a relationship? Why do you have to pretend I’m not what I quite obviously am before I can earn your good will? If that’s the case, maybe your will isn’t as good as you think it is.
Shall I pretend Jerry Seinfeld isn’t Jewish? Or that Halle Berry isn’t a woman? Makes about as much sense.
So-called colorblindness is neither possible nor even desirable. One of the great joys of life in this nation is the fact that its culture is actually the rich admixture of many cultures. Why should I ignore that?
Better, I think, to celebrate it. And to treat representatives of those cultures with fairness, equality and compassion. It really is as simple as that.
Or at least, it should be. Instead, Ward Connerly offers this shoddy attempt at social engineering. And it scares me, because I know it will likely prove attractive to those who see it as a way to end American balkanization with a single stroke. It is not. Rather, it’s an attempt to enforce by law something that has never been true in fact. Meaning, the belief that race doesn’t matter.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.