University of California regent Ward Connerly's new "Racial Privacy Initiative," which last month qualified for the March 2004 ballot, would bar the California government from asking citizens what their race is. These days, even the government admits it's hard to tell anyone's race. One of the nation's hottest movie stars, "XXX" hunk Vin Diesel, militantly refuses to reveal his racial background, except to say he's "multicultural." But if Diesel wanted to attend most universities or apply for any kind of government assistance, he'd be forced to break his silence and check a box, or boxes.
Defenders of racial checklists note that the current census has been liberalized to let citizens to choose from among 63 racial and ethnic categories -- although there is no obvious reason for stopping at 63, and there is no constitutional basis for asking the race question at all. The constitutional rationale for the census is to count heads for the purpose of determining congressional districts. Since congressional districts are not determined on the basis of race or ethnicity there is no justification for such questions.
Connerly's campaign is another stage in his crusade to free Americans from the racial albatross, an agenda he has described as an effort to "eliminate racial profiling." This agenda has provoked a frenzy of opposition from the usual racial reactionaries -- the NAACP, the ACLU and the entire "civil rights" coalition, who simply can't imagine life without racial categories. The same coalition opposed Connerly's Prop 209 campaign and was eventually proven wrong in every hysterical particular of the arguments they used to oppose it. Women were not stripped of their rights, as the anti-Connerly coalition had warned. Minority enrollment dipped, then climbed again. African-American enrollment is still down from where it was when it was artificially bolstered by affirmative action, but maybe the continued struggles of black students to meet high educational standards will force some attention to the corrupt educational bureaucracy in most inner city school districts.
Now that same old coalition is arguing that Connerly's new initiative will cripple anti-discrimination laws. This is just a new twist to the old hysteria. Anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals will not be affected at all. Pseudo-anti-discrimination laws that provide racial preferences and privilege for politically anointed groups will.
But Connerly's latest campaign has also thrown some cooler heads into an ideological tizzy. For example, Peter Beinart, the usually astute editor of the New Republic, had this to say about Connerly in a TRB column:
"[Connerly's anti-racial profiling slogan] should strike you as odd. In fact, it suggests just how schizophrenic conservative rhetoric on race has become. On the one hand, conservatives blithely endorse Connerly's initiative as the natural extension of their longstanding battle against racial preferences. On the other, since Sept. 11, conservatives have unceremoniously junked the very principle on which all that anti-affirmative action crusading rests: color blindness. When it comes to Arabs and the war on terrorism, conservatives don't want to "eliminate racial profiling" at all. They want the ACLU and all the other politically correct guilt-mongers to get out of the way and let the government start practicing it. In its writing on affirmative action and its writing on homeland security, the American right is engaged in a dialogue of the deaf -- with itself. "
Actually, Peter, the shoe is clearly on the other foot. It's the left whose cynical abandonment of its own color-blind standard created racial preferences, which are an obvious form of racial profiling. Having marched in the '60s to establish the principle of color-blindness, the left switched sides in the '70s to support the principle it had just successfully opposed. Its rationale for embracing the profiling principle in the guise of "affirmative action" was that it was necessary to use racism to combat racism (although it is politically incorrect to express it so bluntly). This was the point of the infamous Blackmun opinion in the Bakke decision, which held that it might be necessary to take race into account to get beyond it.
This is the most widely embraced Orwellian principle in our culture today. It allows the cynical manipulators of race on the left to smear conservative civil rights activists who oppose race consciousness and race privilege as "racists." It allows the left to call itself a "civil rights" movement even while it embraces the very principle that made segregation possible, and even though it is the conservative opposition that has remained faithful to the civil rights standard set by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the hundreds of thousands who marched on Washington in 1963.
Such ideological sleight-of-hand is not unusual in these matters. In fact, it is normal for liberals to blame conservatives for the sins their own policies and practices caused. Liberals blamed conservatives for launching the politics of personal destruction during the Clinton impeachment battles, but it was obvious that the attacks on Clinton were a belated retaliation for the personal assaults liberals themselves had earlier launched against Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. The lynch mobs of the left set out to defame these Supreme Court nominees by rifling their personal garbage (literally) in a campaign that was unprecedented. Then, when it came to Clinton's sexual misbehavior, conservatives mistakenly believed that because liberals had set the standards for "sexual harassment," they would be outraged if one of their own violated them.
Conservatives never seem to fully appreciate the fact that the issues are never the issue where liberals are concerned. For liberals, the issue is power. Whatever serves their need for power is right; whatever frustrates it is wrong. When racial profiling is to their advantage it is good. It's only when it isn't that it's bad. The left's hypocrisy is limitless. After decades of demanding racial profiling in job placements, school admissions, scholarships, corporate boards and government agencies, the left began decrying so-called "racial profiling" in law enforcement procedures without a single missed beat.
The quotes around racial profiling are necessary, because the profiling that upsets liberals and is endorsed by conservatives is not "racial profiling" at all. It is a time-honored race-neutral practice, often enforced by minority officers themselves, and completely consistent with a color-blind society properly understood. Obviously a color-blind society does not mean either a society where racial characteristics are invisible or where racists don't exist. Conservatives are not the utopians in this fight. A "color-blind society" means a society with a single standard for all races and ethnicities.
Security profiles should be designed to protect law-abiding citizens from likely criminal predators. Profiles that include the ethnicity or race of potential suspects - but are not limited to those characteristics -- do not constitute "racial profiling" in any meaningful sense of the term. The inclusion of race in a security profile is in itself as harmless as the inclusion of gender or height or any other identifying characteristic. It does not imply racism on the part of the profilers. On the other hand, rigging admissions or contract standards for selected racial groups does. It is the sole purpose of affirmative-action racial preferences to achieve a race-specific result. They are designed to target racial groups for racial privileges. This is what segregation and apartheid were all about. The means and the end were identical.
This is not what the security profiling demanded by conservatives is about, at all. Conservatives do not want Muslims to be arrested as terrorists if they are innocent. The profile is not constructed out of a desire to stigmatize Muslims as terrorists. It is based on already established incidences of terror and is intended to heighten awareness of where the danger may be coming from. To raise suspicions about groups whose members have in fact targeted innocents for harm bears no relation to ethnic or racial prejudice, as long as the suspicions are not raised solely by ethnicity or race. An unintended side effect may to raise suspicions toward members of the group who are innocent. But this is not the same as convicting them. Causing inconvenience to innocents is regrettable, but it is a price people regardless of ethnicity or race are willing to pay for safety. It is a characteristic of all preventive programs that innocents will be screened along with the guilty. But the ultimate target is the guilty and not the innocent, and the guilty may turn out to be of any ethnicity or race. In affirmative action measures, by contrast, the target itself is racial.
The war in which we are now engaged is a war with radical Islam. All of the terrorists who have targeted us are Muslim and/or Arab. Not to have heightened suspicions of Muslims and Arabs in these circumstances is mindless, not to say suicidal. To draw conclusions solely on the basis of the fact that people are Muslims or Arabs would be unwarranted and prejudiced. But conservatives are not calling for the convictions of Muslims or Arabs on the basis of their ethnicity.
The same observations about racial profiling hold for the scrutiny of criminal suspects in the practice of crime prevention, the original pretext for these concerns. Black males commit crime way out of proportion to their relatively small numbers in the U.S. population. So it stands to reason that black males as a group would merit heightened scrutiny by law enforcement officials. The abuse of fears about "racial profiling" to lobby against law enforcement practices that stop a higher percentage of black males is form of racism itself, because it exposes innocent black Americans who constitute the vast majority of the victims of black crime to greater risk because they are black.
Ward Connerly's mission is really a mission to save America from the hypocrisies that leftists have imposed on it. The price of this political correctness has already been great in the form of increased crime, exacerbated racial tensions and lost opportunities. A color-blind society means a society in which government treats all Americans under a single standard and does not single out particular races for privilege or prejudice. It does not mean a society that is blind to the dangers that confront it.