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Racial Privacy Initiative: A Threat to Civil Rights

Racial Privacy Initiative: A Threat to Civil Rights
By Dr. Jamillah Moore

It is saddening to read that California will take the lead in proposing yet another divisive initiative for the ballot. The Golden State has led the way on controversial issues of vouchers, immigration and affirmative action. Now the American Civil Rights Institute, founded by Ward Connerly, has proposed the Racial Privacy Initiative slated for the October 2003 ballot.

The initiative should concern everyone. It would prohibit state and local governments from using race, ethnicity, color or national origin to classify current or prospective students, contractors or employees in public education, contracting or employment operations (see Black Issues, June 5, 2003).

One way we monitor and defend our civil liberties, and work toward leveling the playing field of equality in this country, is based upon the collection of data. The reality is that racial and ethnic categories are socially significant constructs that shape human behavior. Data on race and ethnicity also aid understanding and address inequalities in primary social institutions such as law enforcement, criminal justice, the workplace, health care and education.

However, the concern the so-called Racial Privacy Initiative raises is its ability to erode the rights of all Americans to defend themselves against discrimination by removing from public records the very empirical data to protect those rights.

With an initiative of this nature as a constitutional provision, what would have been the outcome of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or the 1971 Serrano v. Priest? What all of these cases had in common was their ability to show a pattern of discrimination based upon impartial research using factual data. How does the California Department of Education verify they have complied with state regulations to ensure equal access to public education for all children? How do parents demonstrate that their children’s civil rights have been violated? How does the California Legislature ensure that board and commission memberships are representative of the population in the state? How do organizations continue to recruit bone marrow donors?

Connerly’s obsession with race does not mean that a colorblind society eradicates discrimination, nor does elimination of data alone achieve the colorblind society he craves. Colorblindness in our society simply makes it easier for people of color to be overlooked, ignored and made invisible. In a democracy everyone has the ability to seek justice and equality — they are the fundamental principals upon which this country was founded. But we cannot have “life, liberty and justice for all,” if there is no legal recourse for discrimination. For anyone who has ever had to go to court, data is a vital measurement tool in monitoring equity.

Passage of the Racial Privacy Initiative, will be tantamount to the legalization of racial discrimination. How can justice be blind if you make it impossible for those who discriminate to be held accountable? If knowledge is power, we cannot remove the data that will add to needed research, empower individuals and hold government accountable. What makes California so unique is its diversity and until we come to understand and truly appreciate what we all have to offer, malevolent initiatives of this nature will continue. E Pluribus Unum is what we should continue to strive for.

— Dr. Jamillah Moore is a professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento, and director of governmental relations for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

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