Alexander's Column

Colorblind in Carolina — and America

Mark Alexander · Feb. 11, 2000

“That flag will come down. There’s a big difference between the two parties. Al Gore and I say take the flag down.” –Bill Bradley

Of course, the “big difference” Messrs. Gore and Bradley are busy highlighting does not really concern the Confederate battle flag flying over South Carolina’s state house. It concerns the Sociocrats’ racial spoils system. Ironically, striking the Confederate Battle colors now symbolizes advocacy of the modern “segregation” favored by liberals.

Two-thirds of the 20th century in America was marred by immoral and regressive government-sanctioned racial segregation. Regrettably, the latter third of this century has not brought the equal rights promised by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but rather a regime of government-imposed racial preferences and quotas. In the spirit of reclaiming the worthy original vision of the civil rights movement, we must make a color-blind America a reality, thus finally realizing the Founding Fathers’ declaration of the self-evident truth that all humans are created equal, and endowed by God with the just claim to equal treatment under our country’s laws.

Our elected leadership should point us back toward honoring our Founders’ principle of equality before the law.

First, we must end government preferences based on race in contracting and public employment. This has already been accomplished in California and Washington with the passage of citizen initiatives. Washington state’s Initiative 200 received a remarkable 59 percent of the vote, generating a groundswell of support among both Democrat and Republican voters. It is time for Congress to follow the lead of these states in ending preferences based on race, ethnicity, and national origin.

Secondly, we attained equality of access to educational opportunities by the initiatives in California and Washington, as well as by the Hopwood decision, which affected Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Congress should make this a nationwide policy by refusing to provide public funds to universities that discriminate or grant preference on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin.

It is important to outlaw university preferences not only in admissions and financial aid, but also in other official campus functions. For example, the University of Kansas held a separate “Minority Graduation Banquet” in 1998 for “protected minority cultures.” At Wesleyan College, there are separate dormitories for blacks and Hispanics. While students should be permitted to socialize with whomever they choose, publicly supported colleges must not be allowed to sponsor discriminatory ceremonies and operate segregated housing.

Conservatives should end the racial check-off conducted by the U.S. Census. The Census now requires people to check a box indicating their race or ethnicity. This is especially awkward for an increasing number of Americans who are of mixed ancestry. They can either choose the heritage of one of their parents over the other or check the unappealing “Other” box. At the very least, the Census forms should contain a multiracial option. Better yet, if we eliminate government policies that classify and favor people on the basis of inherited characteristics, there will simply not be a need to ask this question on the Census or any other government forms.

Of course, there will be substantial obstacles to achieving these goals. Advocates for preferences will argue for their continuation on the grounds of either diversity or as compensation for past discrimination.

The diversity argument fails in several respects. First, it wrongly uses race or ethnicity as a proxy for a real diversity of viewpoints. The tremendous criticism that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received from the black community clearly demonstrates that there is no single black perspective on any issue. There are countless ways people can be different, including religion, socioeconomic background, urban/rural upbringing, etc. Secondly, if a university or other institution truly wants to extend opportunities to those who come from underprivileged backgrounds, the most direct way of doing this is to consider the socioeconomic background of applicants and whether their parents attended college. While such an approach would disproportionately benefit blacks and Hispanics since they are statistically more likely to be disadvantaged, it would also help millions of poor white Americans.

As we approach the new century, the past discrimination rationale for affirmative action also becomes less salient. While past discrimination in our society contributed to higher poverty rates among minorities, a similarly persuasive claim can be advanced that counterproductive liberal policies have maintained this poverty differential longer than would otherwise have been the case.

Moreover, the 1998 death of George Wallace reminds us that most of those who were responsible for segregation are no longer alive. Thus, the idea that affirmative action is somehow needed to punish whites for segregation and slavery is preposterous – unless one believes that all white people are somehow guilty by association.

This points to the most fundamental flaw in the past discrimination rationale – the assumption that people are interchangeable members of certain racial or ethnic groups rather than distinct individuals, each having a unique identity formed by a wide range of characteristics and experiences. It defies reason to believe that giving preference to black Americans today – who may not be disadvantaged – somehow erases or compensates for an injustice done to another African American person many years ago.

Thus, it becomes clear that neither the diversity nor past discrimination rationale justifies the continuation of government policies that classify and favor individuals on the basis of race and ethnicity. While the color of a person’s skin will always be a visible characteristic, we must not usher in a new century by continuing to discriminate on this superficial basis – as superficial as claiming that a flag up or down will measurably affect people’s lives. Instead, America must pursue a colorblind future of unlimited opportunity for all – by ensuring equality of all citizens in the eyes of the law.

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