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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


The Recall’s Forgotten Stepchild
Proposition 54 and Progressivism on the Cheap
[Carol Platt Liebau] 9/29/03   

In a state where racial data is frequently collected from Californians – sometimes even when they bring their refuse to recycling centers – it’s a testimony to the volume of hoopla surrounding the pending recall of Gray Davis and the race to succeed him that so little has been said about the Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), otherwise known as Proposition 54.

That’s a shame. The principle behind the RPI is simple: “The state shall not classify any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment.” And its text has been carefully crafted to allow exemptions where they are necessary – for law enforcement purposes, for medical research, and where federal law requires collection of racial data in exchange for the award of grants, services and benefits or in order to enforce federal civil rights laws.

Proposition 54’s proponents say that the initiative’s purpose is to move America toward a color-blind society. That may be true in the long run, but even immediately, Proposition 54 provides a valuable service: Offering voters the opportunity to define the relationship they would like to see between the state’s government and its citizens. Should the government have the right to force Californians to hand over information about their race, in order to facilitate government-decision making based on racial data –or is your race simply none of the government’s business?

Predictably, many liberals – especially those most incensed about the alleged invasions of privacy implicated in the war on terror – fear and hate the very idea of racial privacy. The judges who temporarily delayed the recall couldn’t even bring themselves to describe the initiative fairly; according to that panel, the RPI “would prevent the State from collecting or retaining racial and ethnic data about health care, hate crimes, racial profiling, public education, and public safety" – an allegation readily disproven by even a cursory reading of the initiative itself.

But it’s no surprise that lefties despise the RPI, because it endangers one of the great pillars upon which their power rests: The ability to create, control and profit politically from a racial spoils system. And it threatens them on a more fundamental level by challenging them to fix the failed big government institutions – like inner city public schools – that actually create racial inequalities, rather than putting a band-aid over the damage long after it’s been done with race-conscious remedies like affirmative action. In truth, the race-based remedies facilitated by racial data collection are little more than complacent white liberal feel-good politics on the cheap – an opportunity for liberal elites to feel superior even as they avoid tough facts and even tougher decisions.

And perhaps California’s racial minorities realize this – even if their self-appointed guardians (like Judges Pregerson, Paez and Thomas) don’t. A poll released last week by four education and non-profit associations found that a plurality of Latinos, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans support Proposition 54, and in proportions greater than whites – a plurality of whom also support racial privacy (although it should be noted that the numbers for Asian-Americans were within the poll’s margin of error). In a frantic effort to explain away the results – and perhaps inadvertently revealing their own views about the intelligence of minority voters – some proponents of Proposition 54 attempted to argue that the minorities who said they supported the RPI obviously hadn’t understood the pollster’s questions.

But to those less obsessed with race – and, apparently, to a plurality of minority voters themselves – the pernicious implications of race based benefits are perfectly clear. In a state where intermarriage gradually renders old racial categories obsolete, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how racial spoils will be divided. Does a half black, half Asian high school senior applying to the University of California-Berkeley “count” as an Asian (thereby diminishing his chances of admission) or as an African-American (which would enhance the same)? How much Native American blood must one have to “count” as Native American? Or Latino? Is one drop enough?

What a disgusting calculus. Such conversations don’t sound like the United States in the twenty-first century – they are more reminiscent of apartheid South Africa or the Jim Crow laws (replete with references to “mulattoes”, “quadroons” and “octoroons”) that have been rightly consigned to oblivion as part of a shameful chapter in American history.

Some conservatives have opposed Proposition 54 on the grounds that it would prevent the government from gathering data to demonstrate the progress made by American minorities. Although they are well-intentioned, they give the racial spoils lobbies (like Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Coalition”) far too much credit. These lobbies have a mission – and it is limited to advancing their own agendas and maximizing their power by sowing the seeds of racial resentment and discontent. To date, these race baiters have never credited any evidence of minority advancement; there is no reason to believe their behavior would change in the future.

Californians have the reputation of being trailblazers – sometimes for good (as in the tax revolt movement), sometimes perhaps not. Once again, we have the opportunity to be pioneers. By voting “yes” on Proposition 54, we can tell the government to stop collecting the data that facilitates distribution of public benefits on the basis of race – and get to work fixing the government programs that foster racial inequality in the first place.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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