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Erasing Race is a Blind Alley

Ward Connerly again.

As if a year that has given us corporate criminality, pedophile priests and a new Adam Sandler movie were not already odious enough, now the notorious University of California regent is back in the headlines. You remember Connerly, 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 and, more recently, failed to do the same thing in Florida.

Connerly's latest crusade? The so-called Racial Privacy Initiative, which, if approved by voters, would prohibit California from collecting most forms of racial data on its citizens. Connerly missed a deadline to get the initiative on this year's ballot, so 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 the erasure of racial statistics 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 would 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's 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 to which you have to blind yourself 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.

The truth is that 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? Why should I fear difference?

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.


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's 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.

But for good and for ill, it does. And believing otherwise doesn't prove you're blind to color. It just proves you're blind.

© 2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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