In California, A Racial Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
by Seth Sandronsky
June 14, 2003
Ward Connerly is back with the Racial Privacy Initiative, which will be on the ballot in California next year. But he never really left.
Connerly’s backing of the state’s Proposition 209 eight years ago still echoes. Its passage has helped to soil the concept of affirmative action.
Prop 209 was the ballot initiative, approved by voters, to outlaw gender and race preferences in California government contracts, jobs and programs.
Presumably, such preferences are unfair in a free society that rewards hard work.
Mythically, the industrious achieve, and those without this personal quality fall behind. Accordingly, government should stay out of the way and let the level playing field of the market bring out the best in people.
But the reality counters this mythology. Consider corporate America, which regularly lobbies Congress to distort the market for its benefit.
One case in point is the pharmaceutical industry’s cash payments to national politicians. This has resulted in name-brand prescription drugs being very costly for the American people.
How? Government-enforced patents.
They help these corporations to monopolize markets. This eliminates low-cost competitors.
Affirmative action for corporations at your expense? You be the judge.
In any case, Connerly’s race initiative would bar local or state government from collecting individuals’ racial and ethnic data. This would, he claims, reduce racial and ethnic divisions.
Connerly is correct that race is a social construction. Plus, people have similar DNA.
But does it follow that reducing government intervention concerning the skin color of the private individual is the path to racial and ethnic unity? Ask black and brown motorists in California.
Some of them and other folks have been trying with mixed success to get law enforcement agencies to collect racial data on the people they stop for questioning. This mobilization, initially opposed by Governor Gray Davis, has tried to quantify that racial profiling, “driving while black and brown,” is a racist policy.
The goal? To make the state government mandate the collection of racial data as a way to end such racism, the on-ramp to the prison-industrial system.
Publicly, Connerly believes in the dream of a society in which government is blind to skin color. He claims to back Dr. King’s view of a society blinded to the color of one’s skin.
Such a social change today (and not in the sweet-by-and-by) goes to the heart of equality in the Pledge of Allegiance. But that promise falls short of the reality for many Americans without white skin.
One of the big reasons is the color line that W.E.B. Du Bois analyzed so well decades ago. Blacks especially have been and are still living second-class lives in America.
One million of the nation’s two million prisoners are black. A million black kids live in “extreme poverty,” i.e., a household of three people with a yearly income after taxes of less than $7,064.
Racism in U.S.-style capitalism explains in part why blacks were twice as likely as whites to oppose the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
How can the Bush White House build a free society in Iraq while equality remains a broken dream for millions of American blacks?
Meanwhile, organized opposition to racism has been stronger. To the end of improving racial equality, the hour is here to speak out against Connerly-ism.
We need a radical debate, one that confronts race in America. It is arguably a national affliction, a dysfunction.
Now is the time to engage Connerly and his supporters for ignoring the issue of white-skin privilege in California. Yes, whites folks have race, and it matters when it comes to government action.
For example, ask Connerly and his backers to explain why mostly white men received the GI Bill after World War II. Most black veterans were excluded.
Thus the dream of home ownership was denied to many blacks, with effects that widened the racial wealth gap for their descendants. What if racial data hadn’t been collected to document this racist policy?
Widen the debate about the collection of ethnic and racial data to consider past and present government intervention. There’s no shortage of examples.
Government intervention is to the market what water is to fish. The question is who gets that help, and why.
That question is a matter of politics, not economics. In an era of rising job insecurity and presumed national security, the concept of race matters perhaps more than ever in the U.S.
Race is still central to keeping the hearts and minds of some people inside the box. Resist that box by opposing the RPI and all the regression that follows from it.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento/Yolo Peace Action, and an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org