Ward Connerly, the chairman of the successful initiative drives against government racial preferences in California in 1996 and Washington State in 1998, sent an especially interesting response to my essay last week on New York Times' Nicholas Wade and his many articles documenting the biological reality of race.
Connerly has put a follow-up called the Racial Privacy Initiative on the March 2004 ballot in California. It would prevent the state from collecting data on the racial or ethnic identity of residents, except for medical research and certain other specific uses.
Connerly wants me to comment on the RPI.
Some backers of the RPI have cited the ever-popular "Race Does Not Exist" theory in its support. If race is just an illusion, they say, it makes no more sense for the government to track it than it would to monitor its citizens' astrological signs.
But if race is scientifically meaningful, as I contend along with the New York Times' genetic correspondent, does that argue against the RPI?
I think the opposite is truer. To me, the RPI is appealing precisely because racial groups are fundamentally an outgrowth of that locus of primal human emotions, the family. That means race is and always will be a hot potato. Government should handle it as little as possible. Government should especially avoid throwing fuel on the potato by designating some groups as the beneficiaries and others as the victims of affirmative action.
Another erroneous argument in favor of RPI: interracial marriage is rapidly making obsolete the entire concept of having people check little race boxes. If most people will soon be tri-racial, like Connerly, who is part black, white and American Indian, or quad-racial, like some of his half-Asian grandchildren, then what's the point of government racial classifications?
This is a better argument. But, as I've pointed out from Census data, the Tiger Woodsification of America hasn't gone through the formality of actually happening. (This process is, however, further along in Connerly's California than in almost any other state besides Hawaii.)
And it's naïve to imagine that interracial marriage will end race conflicts. In Latin America, 500 years of race-mixing haven't succeeded in eliminating racial enmity. In fact, as Amy Chua showed in her book World on Fire, South America today is experiencing a trans-national outburst of darker-skinned peoples demanding greater equality of outcomes from the continent's lighter-skinned elites.
"The Brazilian government, responding to demands to improve the lot of the black population, has begun imposing racial quotas for government jobs, contracts and university admissions. But that has unleashed an acrimonious debate in a country that traditionally prides itself on being a harmonious 'racial democracy.'"
This American-style affirmative action policy is being imposed despite the notoriously greater difficulty in Brazil in deciding who is black and who is white.
The lesson: when the government is handing out freebies, minor issues like logic and consistency aren't going to stop people from elbowing their way to the trough.
The danger of racial polarization is always present. And nothing exacerbates it more than government preferences for some races over others. The RPI isn't a panacea. But it represents one additional way to prevent the institutionalization of racial quotas.
Over the years, my objections to affirmative action have become based less on moral principles and more on the kind of prudential grounds that Edmund Burke emphasized. The entire liberal racial system assumes a large majority paying for the special privileges of a small minority. As long as the ratio of payers to payees is high, the cost per individual payer is tolerably low and the system is reasonably stable. But as the late UC Santa Barbara historian and political scientist Hugh Davis Graham pointed out in last year's Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America, affirmative action and mass immigration make a volatile mixture. Our current policy of giving preference to most foreigners, even illegal immigrants, is tipping the ratio toward the danger zone.
Connerly, a University of California regent, says that the black lobby is no longer the main force subverting Proposition 209's ban on race preferences in California. Instead, it was the California legislature's sizable Latino Caucus that told the Regents that if they didn't find subterfuges for raising the number of Hispanics admitted, the University system's budget would be cut.
(As I've noted, Latinos cast only 10 percent of the votes in California last November, but they hold 22.5 percent of the seats in both houses of the state legislature. That's because Hispanic politicians generally represent "rotten boroughs" containing relatively few voters. The current interpretation of the U.S. Constitution says that all adults, even illegal aliens, must be counted when drawing up legislative districts. Thus, only about five-eighths as many votes are cast in districts represented by the Latino Caucus as in all other districts in California.)
Many of the issues revolving around the RPI are subtle. I'd encourage you to read the objections of Tom Wood, the co-author with Glynn Custred of California's Proposition 209. Wood feels that racial data collection is essential for the enforcement of his Prop. 209 and of anti-discrimination laws in the private sector.
But that seems less like a problem than a benefit. The government's use of hiring statistics rather than actual evidence of biased actions to "prove" discrimination, as Paul Craig Roberts has documented, has put the burden of proof on the defendant. It is the main reason corporations have been imposing racial quotas upon themselves.
As I've long argued, both justice and efficiency would better be served by instead letting the marketplace penalize competitive firms that irrationally discriminate in employment.
I continue to think that RPI will help prevent the Lebanonization of America – along with an immigration moratorium.