TCS Daily

The Content of Our California

By Radley Balko - October 7, 2003 12:00 AM

Lost in the groping, the deficit, the child actors and the general mayhem that is the California recall circus is an important ballot initiative that could do wonders for the ethnic and racial climate of a state that's about ten years ahead of the rest of the country on the demographic curve.


Proposition 54, also known as Ward Connerly's "Racial Privacy Initiative," would bar California state government from using racial classifications in its official business. Sadly, the measure seems to be losing support in the polls, perhaps in part because even Republican frontrunner Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't the courage to stand up to California's racial demagogues and publicly support it.


That's too bad. Because America -- and especially California -- is becoming increasingly blind to race. We could probably abandon race completely in a generation or two, if only our government would let us.


Take a walk through Washington, D.C.'s "Chinatown," and you'd probably be surprised to find both a Hooters and a Fuddrucker's. There's Irish bar, Fado. There's also a barbecue joint, which bills itself "the best Texas barbecue in Chinatown." Venture north to the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, you can sample the food of a dozen different regions of the world in just a few blocks. A few blocks up, try the U-Street neighborhood, where trendy lounges and upscale health clubs sit next to blues and jazz clubs that have stood since the 1920s. Spill out into the suburbs, and you'll find a mini Adams-Morgan in Arlington, Virginia's Clarendon, and a panoply of Indian, Latino, and Asian influences intermeshed in Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax.


In a recent Washington Post column, the Davenport Institute's Joel Kotkin and Thomas Tseng write that "Shopping centers in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, the epitome of an immigrant-oriented suburban area, are likely to be multiethnic, with stores advertising in Russian, Farsi, Armenian and Spanish, as well as the ubiquitous English."


They write that today, 51% of Asians live in the suburbs, as well as 43% of Latinos and 32% of African-Americans. White Americans, meanwhile, are rediscovering the allure of urban living in cities such as Washington, Atlanta and Chicago. In the last few years an upscale shopping center featuring a Best Buy, a Bed, Bath & Beyond and a natural foods grocery store opened just a few blocks from what was once Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green housing projects. The buzz phrase in urban planning today isn't "white flight," it's "gentrification."


A 1997 Gallup poll found that 57% of teens would consider dating someone of another race, up from just 17% in 1980. Remarkably, a full 100% of white respondents said that race would not prevent them from voting for a candidate for political office, up from 75% in 1980. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of babies born to black-white couples nearly tripled. And in California, a baby born today is more likely to be born to an interracial couple than to two black parents. Kotkin and Tseng cite a 2002 Pew/Kaiser poll showing that just 7% of second generation Latinos consider Spanish their primary language -- 93% are either bilingual (47%), or consider English their first language (46%). Jump to the third generation, and the English-dominant number jumps to 78%.


On a personal level, Americans are clearly in the process of erasing the boundaries of race. We're intermarrying, we're adopting interracially, and we're absorbing the benefits of a multiethnic society.


This only makes sense, as the scientists who unmasked the human genome found remarkably few differences between the races in the biological stuff that makes us human. In fact, there's likely to be more genetic variation between two random members of the same race than between to random individuals from different races. Dr. J. Craig Venter, who is president of Celera Genomics, the company that first completed the human genome map, has repeatedly expressed his frustration that contrary to the evidentiary biology available, doctors and scientists continue to cling to what is really a social construct.


The problem of course is that for many people, there's still far too much race-based incentive to abandon racial classification. Government still doles out tax dollars guided by race- and ethnic-based demographics -- over $185 billion in race or ethnic-based set asides, by one estimate. Consequently, the interest groups that sell race -- and the nativists who play off of fears of it -- have a vested interest in keeping us thinking about color, language and nationalism.


And so we get the spectacle of an America increasingly oblivious to race, an America looking to leave ethnicity behind -- and an American government hell-bent on preventing that from happening, but under the premise that it's doing just the opposite.


Before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. was actually moving away from state-sanctioned race consciousness. The ACLU and the NAACP lobbied against including race in the 1960 U.S. Census. A few states had already stopped classifying by race.


The U.S. Census had just five racial classifications in 1970. After thirty years of kowtowing to identity politics, the 2000 Census had over 60, 120 if you include ethnicity. Ethnic "advocacy" groups then scramble to "recruit" members to ensure roomy stalls at the public trough. One example of how this has played out: Despite intermarriage, assimilation, and the statistics cited above, the United States somehow found 65% more "American Indians" in 2000 than it had in 1990.


Unfortunate timing has put Proposition 54 on the recall ballot, instead of a traditional election ballot and so it's been buried by the shenanigans of the last few months. That's regrettable, since the only people who are interested in it, then, are those who have the most to lose by its success.


Far from being the radically conservative undertaking its detractors claim it to be, the Racial Privacy Initiative is really little more than asking government to mirror what most of us have already done in our private lives -- push race to the margins, where it belongs. But Proposition 54's likeliest proponents -- California's Republicans -- have concluded that they'd rather rally behind a popular actor who's squishy on the issue than give race-blind government the public debate it deserves.


TCS Daily Archives