California has a
new governor, but the election showed that the Golden State still hasn’t
learned how to get over the issue of racism. Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante,
commenting on the defeat of Proposition 54, said, "Finally California is
saying no more wedge politics." Of course, Bustamante could be expected to
make such a statement. He is, after all, a man who purportedly believes
that California rightfully belongs to Mexico. To him, racism is when
a “person of color” doesn’t get what they want. When a “white” student
is pushed out of a university to make way for someone less qualified, that’s
Meanwhile, in the wake of my last column on Proposition 54, I was asked to
comment on the morality of forcing someone to declare a racial or cultural
identity by checking a box on a college application, school census card,
etc. One of the more odious of these regulations, in my opinion, covers
real estate financing. If the applicant decline to state their race,
the loan officer must check a box for them “to the best of his or her ability
to determine” the applicant’s racial background. Consider Tiger Woods.
I doubt that any box would cover his background, leaving the loan officer
with an impossible problem. Fortunately for Tiger, his success as a
golfer probably makes it unnecessary for him to apply for a loan, but that’s
not the case for everyone.
Morality is a necessary part of this discussion. Abolitionism, the
precursor of the civil rights movement, was a moral crusade to those involved.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, for one, questioned the morality of families being
torn apart, children separated from loving parents, and husbands from wives,
only because they were “chattel.” It should be noted that this did
not only happen in the South; most of the northern states allowed slavery
at one time. While emancipation ended slavery, there were still lingering
aftereffects. Despite this, integration occurred, and inexorably the
tide toward universal recognition of people on their merits began.
Dr. King’s dream was, in large part, inevitable. The only thing truly
holding it back today is politics.
Interestingly the biggest issue facing the American People in this venue
is caused by the very phenomenon that everyone should be expecting, and accepting;
people of mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds. And, it is not as simple
as someone being the child of two parents of easily identified backgrounds.
As one gentleman put it to me, his son was part Irish, part African, part
Choctaw and part French. His son married a half Vietnamese woman.
People of ancestry this mixed have been around for decades. However,
as society, and in some cases the law, would have it, one has to be “Black”
or “White” or “Indian.” It is likely that this gentleman might have
the choice made for him, based on his appearance, as happened to Tiger Woods
-- before he went public to explain his ancestry to a press corps eager to
heap adulation on a “black” man succeeding in a “white” sport.
There was another experience I had years ago involving a woman who was Chinese,
Hawaiian and English. A college instructor with insufficient experience
at such things attempted to acquaint her with how to handle “multicultural”
issues, not knowing that she had been doing it for over twenty years.
He had pigeonholed her as white, which is what the check box system also
attempts to do.
What I believe Dr. King attempted to address was that individual worth is
in many instances a moral issue, and human relationships should be based
on such issues, rather than on ancestry. For example, faced with the
choice, I would decide to spend time with Michael Jordan over Dennis Rodman
any day. My choice would be based on my moral judgment of the people
involved. Michael Jordan has always impressed the world as a class
act. It is hard to say what Rodman is, or isn’t. Such choices
only become difficult if you have to choose between two class acts such as
Jordan and Larry Bird, or for that matter, Jordan and Karl Malone.
As many writers have pointed out in the wake of Rush Limbaugh’s comments
on Monday Night Football, sports have become a great leveler in racial matters.
People have learned to cheer for their local team, regardless of what it
looks like. It is only the press, government bureaucrats and race baiters
who have any reason to continue to pigeonhole people, or to make race an
issue. They have something to gain; the rest of society doesn’t.
Even the issue of “hate crimes” is really a red herring. A crime is
a crime, and the law has recognized malice as a factor in setting penalties
for generations. People such as Cruz Bustamante make an issue of race
because they believe that they will benefit from it. When conservative
students have bake sales shut down because they point out the hypocrisy of
the current situation we see that college administrations care more about
forcing people to declare a racial identity than they do about the morality
of such action. Like modern day advocates of Jim Crow, skin color or
ancestry is more important than individual self worth. They have become
what they profess to hate but refuse to recognize it.
When the public finds it offensive to be forced to accept someone else’s
definition of their personal identity, then this situation will change.
After the defeat of his proposition Ward Connerly stated, "I think the voters
generally embrace the ideas of Prop. 54, but the opposition very, very effectively
raised doubts about the health issue." Connerly was probably right,
although the issue was undoubtedly another red herring. Health care
providers have kept racial statistics for years before anyone required it,
and have used them effectively because that is part of their moral code.
Checking boxes on hospital admissions forms would make little difference
in the end results.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, critics of the measure “characterized
it as a misguided attempt to pretend that race no longer matters.”
In fact, to many of us, it no longer does, and if the government, the press
and the politicians just let us forget about it, it might just go away of
its own accord and we could get on with judging people as individuals as
Dr. King intended.
Steven Laib is a practicing attorney.