Morality, Racism and the Check Box

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 a non-issue.


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 declines 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.

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