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Commentary

Connerly Initiative Promotes Racial Balkanization

June 04, 2002|YVONNE SCRUGGS-LEFTWICH | Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich is executive director of the national Black Leadership Forum Inc.

Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who spearheaded the successful 1996 initiative to abolish affirmative action in California schools and government, is again pretending race doesn't matter. He now is godfather to the Racial Privacy Initiative, which, if passed by California's voters, would forbid state agencies to note the race of anyone seeking access to public benefits. This, the initiative's supporters contend, would make prejudice and racism disappear.

The effort is at least naive and certainly wrong. Here's why:

* Data about race provide concrete evidence for litigation against discrimination and inequality. Even before the 1954 Supreme Court case that nullified separate-but-equal segregation in public education, hard data have been the foundation of constitutional challenges to civil rights violations. After the Supreme Court's 1996 decision against affirmative action in Hopwood vs. State of Texas, for example, race data confirmed a precipitous drop in the number of blacks entering the University of Texas Law School, from 18 the year before Hopwood to one student the following year. In 2002 studies of housing discrimination, race data confirmed that African Americans paid more for their homes and received less favorable mortgage rates.

* The initiative would convert into law the negative messages that black is undesirable and that asserting pride in African racial identity is trouble-making. Bigots would be given a guilt-free pass because data to substantiate their discriminatory behavior wouldn't be available.

* Race explains the richness of American culture and should be celebrated, not hidden. Soul food, jazz, egg rolls, fried rice, tortillas, the Latin beat--all were created in a "colorblind" America, right? That notion is as silly as it sounds.

* Reports of an intermarried, race-neutral society are premature and greatly exaggerated, at least for African Americans. Though the 2000 census reports an increased rate of racial intermarriage, careful review of these rates reveals that most of the intermarriage is among Asians and whites and Latinos and whites. Only 4% to 6% of blacks marry nonblacks. These data contradict Connerly's assertion that "in 10 to 15 years, intermarriage will make this entire debate a moot one." Also, data from respected national surveys document that today there are significantly more segregated communities in which whites rarely encounter blacks than there were 25 years ago. In 22 states, the African American population is less than 5%; in California, it is 6.7%. If there are few blacks, it's unlikely there will be many white-black relationships that blossom into marriage.

As a 2001 poll sponsored by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University documented, gross misperceptions cloud white views of blacks on every important measure, including societal gains, pay levels, unfair treatment and access to high-level jobs. These misperceptions--in defiance of evidence and common sense--mask racial balkanization. Without racial data, things can only get worse.

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