Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.
As we’ve noted in this series, much of the power of politicians and bureaucrats stems from their ability to classify people and things, to create arbitrarily their own definitions for such terms as “poor,” “assault weapon,” and “species.”
Perhaps their greatest power is the ability to put people in categories based on so-called race. Race is used as a basis for public and private employment, for government contracting, for the distribution of political power, and for college admissions and scholarships.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in which a woman was the victim of racial discrimination when she applied to UT-Austin. The case gives the Court an opportunity to reverse previous rulings, such as Bakke and Bollinger, in which it allowed such discrimination.
In the 1978 Bakke decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the “affirmative action” system used by the medical school at the University of California-Davis. The scheme used explicit quotas, setting aside 16 of 100 admissions for “Blacks,” “Asians,” “American Indians,” and “Chicanos,” i.e., persons of Mexican descent in the U.S. (Hispanics/Latinos, as a separate racial category, had not yet been invented.)
Although the Court threw out that particular scheme, it allowed universities to continue to use so-called race as a factor in admissions, provided that explicit quotas were not used. The Court legitimized racial discrimination if the stated goal was “diversity” – not diversity of life experience or religious background or social class or political ideology, but diversity based on imaginary categories that were created by racists. (As a law student, I wrote an article for the school newspaper analyzing Bakke – for which, click here.)
Not surprisingly, university admissions officers responded to Bakke by imposing unofficial quotas rather than official ones (wink, wink) and by making sure to use the word “diversity” a lot. One assumes that they were unaware of the irony – that Democrats in the Jim Crow era pointed to the need for diversity, the supposed need for blacks to develop their own, separate cadre of professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers – as justification for the evil of segregation,
In 2003, a quarter-century after Bakke, the Supreme Court took up the Bollinger cases, which involved a racial discrimination scheme at the University of Michigan. The Court rejected a scheme for undergraduates that awarded extra points based on the perceived race of applicants, but it okayed an admissions process at the law school that took so-called race into account when evaluating individual applicants. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called the law school’s use of race “narrowly tailored . . . to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”
Using racism to fight racism is self-evident nonsense, of course – something that O’Connor and the Court’s majority seemed to acknowledge by limiting the time frame for the Bollinger decision. Someday, perhaps 25 years after Bollinger (50 years after Bakke), a “colorblind” policy should be put into effect. “[R]ace-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. . . . The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
The Bollinger decision is dated June 23, 2003, which makes “25 years from now” June 23, 2028. As of this writing, 38.5% of that 25 years has passed. How much closer are we to the elimination of racial distinctions, to that goal of being “colorblind”? The answer is that, at the level of our elite institutions, we are as far from that goal as we have been since Jim Crow. We have a federal government and a culture in our leading universities, corporations, and media organizations that is as obsessed with race as any member of the Ku Klux Klan.
For me, this issue is deeply personal.
I was born in Anniston, Alabama during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was four months old when Martin Luther King Jr. first appeared on the cover of Time, and eleven months old when President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard to integrate schools in Little Rock.
When I was four years old, a bus carrying civil rights activists through my hometown was attacked by a mob and firebombed. The attack, which began about four blocks from my home, became a key event in the history of the civil rights movement. (It was commemorated across the nation on the 50th anniversary in 2011.)
I was six years old when, in Birmingham, sixty miles to the west, “Bull” Connor sicced police dogs and turned firehoses on civil rights marchers. That year, George Wallace stood in the door at the University of Alabama, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississippi, and, in Washington, Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Twenty-two days before my seventh birthday, four girls ages 11 to 14 were killed by a KKK bomb that exploded at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.
I don’t know when I decided not to be a racist. I remember that, by the time I was eight, relatives and friends were ridiculing me for my stubborn refusal to use the N-word. My mother’s friends kidded her that one day I’d bring home a bride who would call her “Mammy.” (Ironically, prior to the 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning anti-“race mixing” laws, my parents’ marriage would have been invalid in some places due to my father’s part-Indian heritage.)
As I grew up, I took seriously the words of Dr. King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. . . [that] one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Dr. King’s oldest child was a year older than me, and his second child a year younger than me, so his dream for his children was a dream for my generation. I resolved that I would never accept the essential element of racism – that, based on science and logic, humanity can be divided into a small number of discrete “races.”
I studied the origins of racial classification systems and discovered that they were utterly without merit. Such classifications are grounded in myth and legend and in efforts to justify prejudice, discrimination, and slavery. There are cultural and physical differences among humans, of course, but, depending on criteria, humanity is made up either of countless races or of one race, with no in-between.
The categories used by governments, academic institutions, and corporations – and by every entity that divides us into “races” – are arbitrary and capricious. They are nonsense, like grouping people by astrological sign, like the blood-type categories that are the basis for discrimination in Japan, like the caste system in India, like the prejudice against red-haired “gingers” in Britain, and like the system on that “Star Trek” planet where people whose faces were white on one side and black on the other dominated the people whose tones were reversed.
Some racial categories are based on mere convenience (Japanese and Pakistanis are both “Asian”). Some systems divide the world into “white” and “People of Color,” usually for the purpose of demonizing one or the other.
Some racial classifications are based on skin color – but not consistently; one government system classifies President Obama as black and the late Anwar Sadat (a very dark-skinned man who was, technically, African) as white. Mr. Obama is considered African-American, but apparently shares no ancestry with the vast majority of African-Americans. (His mother was “white” and his father was from Kenya, which is as far removed ethnically from the ancestors of most African-Americans as a Spaniard is from a Norwegian.)
Some classifications are based on the perceived geographical origin of a person’s family – but not consistently; Hispanics are considered a separate category from people of European descent, even though Spain is in Europe. Some classification systems count Hispanics as a separate race, others as an ethnicity overlapping races, and, in some systems, all non-Hispanics are dumped into the same ethnic category.
By the way, putting Hispanics in a separate category makes as much sense as having a “Brit” category consisting of people whose ancestors came from English-speaking countries such as Australia, Ireland, India, and Botswana. Only about a quarter of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. tell pollsters that they want to be counted as Hispanics/Latinos. A quarter would prefer to be called Colombian-American, Cuban-American, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, or another term more specific than Hispanic/Latino. And about half would prefer to be classified as simply “American.” (How silly is it to consider Hispanics/Latinos a separate race? Consider: In the 1950s, when the overwhelming majority of Americans opposed marriage between people of different races, the #1 TV show was “I Love Lucy” – yet somehow no one noticed that the stars and their characters were in a supposedly interracial marriage!)
If this sounds confusing, well, that’s the point. Racial systems don’t work, because they can’t work. We would laugh at a biologist who put mosquitoes, bats, blue jays, and jetliners in the same category because they all have wings and fly. Yet we accept racial classifications that seem rooted in the anti-logic of Lewis Carroll and George Orwell.
Racial systems aren’t even consistent within themselves. The U.S. Census changes its system at least once every decade, adding, subtracting, merging, and splitting categories. And, at any moment, systems used by various federal agencies, by public schools, and by other government entities are inconsistent with each other. This inconsistency makes it scientifically impossible to make legitimate use of “racial” data.
Is a person from the Indian subcontinent in the Asian category, the white one, or the black one? How about someone of Ethiopian descent? Is an American from Libya or South Africa an African-American? Is someone of Portuguese descent from Brazil somehow Hispanic? Is a “brown” person someone whose family came from the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, or Mexico? Does the classification “black” include people from Ireland? The answers to those questions have depended on who was asking the question and when they were asking.
“It depends” is not science.
Often, it’s fraud. Remember those news stories about the prediction by the Census Bureau that the U.S. will soon become a “majority-minority” country? (If you’re speaking to a group of Leftists and want to make them cheer, mention that America will be majority-minority by 2042 or so.) To get that result, demographers simply concocted a new classification, Hispanic/Latino, almost doubling the number of “minority” members. Never mind that, by the standards of 1800, when Germans and Swedes were considered non-white, America was majority-minority by the middle of the 19th Century. Never mind that, by the standards of 1900, when Italians, Irish, and European Jews were considered non-white, American was majority-minority by the middle of the 20th Century. Never mind that, today, only about nine percent of Americans’ ancestry comes from groups that were always considered “white,” which is roughly the same as the percentage of our collective ancestry that comes from Africa. It’s easy to see the U.S. entering uncharted territory as a majority-minority nation, if you just ignore history.
Leftists cheer what they see as the coming of a majority-minority America because they think it means that it makes their victory inevitable. In the last two elections, Republicans at the Congressional level had their best and third-best showings since 1928, yet the news media insist that the unalterable march of demographic change will soon kill the Republicans whom, we are told, are “almost all white.” (Of the 11 “non-white” governors and U.S. senators, seven are Republican.)
Times are changing, all right, but not in the way Leftists hope and expect.
As I grew up, America moved away from the horrific racism I witnessed as a child. By the time I was in college, racial classifications were being taken less and less seriously. Yes, we were still required to classify ourselves on government forms (a practice I protested by listing myself as “Sasquatch”). Yes, when I was in law school, the Supreme Court effectively authorized racial discrimination in college admissions via Bakke. Nonetheless, over the years, in electoral politics, in the media and business, and in personal relationships, the American people moved slowly but methodically toward non-consciousness of race… toward “colorblindness.”
Members of the political, media, and academic elite focus so much on race that it’s easy to miss the change that has occurred at the grassroots level. Today, regular Americans may be among the least race-conscious of any people ever to walk the earth. Consider just one indicator: Television programs from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “Battlestar Galactica,” from “Bones” to “The Office” – I could name dozens more – have featured prominent storylines of so-called interracial romances in which race is barely mentioned or never mentioned at all. We have come a long way from the days of my youth, when most states banned interracial marriage and when a theater showing a film like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” could expect an anonymous telephone message along the lines of “Guess who’s going to blow up your theater?”
To the members of the political class, this trend is a bad thing. To them, colorblindness is an existential threat. Much of the power of politicians, bureaucrats, and hucksters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is rooted in obsession with race. Based on race, practitioners of identity politics gerrymander electoral districts, distribute pork so to as to buy votes, and nurture grievances that keep them in office, empower them to shake down corporations for cash, and give them power over others.
So they need their race lists.
Because if they ever stopped classifying people by race, it would bring down their whole system of racial spoils and racial power-brokering and racism. And that is something the political class can never abide.
This article includes material that appeared originally in the publication The Egalitarian.