Pondering Patterson [IV]: Why We Can't Get Beyond Race

Pondering Patterson Series [ I ], [ II ], [ III ], [ V ], [ VI ]

Orlando Patterson's article claiming that whites shouldn't have to worry about losing their majority because 48% of Hispanics are supposedly white, tendentious and misleading as it was, does reflect a valid concern with the government's current racial and "ethnic" classifications.

How individuals define their group is something politicians can manipulate to some degree. So it behooves us to pay attention to this intricate subject.

Conservatives increasingly believe that if we could simply rewrite how the Census Bureau defines people by race and ethnicity, we could hamstring the affirmative action scam. Ward Connerly, no doubt frustrated by years of Mississippi-style "massive resistance" by bureaucrats to his successful 1996 Proposition 209 initiative outlawing racial preferences in California, is now trying to strike at the racial classifications that are the lifeblood of quotas. His upcoming "Racial Privacy Initiative" will say, "The state shall not classify any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment."

By counting people by race and "Hispanic ethnicity," the government makes possible the current system of legally privileging members of some hereditary groups and - because affirmative action programs are essentially a zero sum game - discriminating against members of disfavored groups.

Why is counting crucial to running the modern American affirmative action system? Most job quotas are not imposed by the government directly, but by employers as defensive measures to prevent being sued by the government. The government uses a simple-minded statistical test in determining whom to sue. The EEOC and the Justice Department simply assume - despite infinite evidence to the contrary - that in the absence of irrational discrimination each "protected" group would be hired at least in proportion to its share of the work force. The government then puts the burden of proof on the employer to show that it is not discriminating. The employer must demonstrate that groups actually differ on average in skills and that there is enough "business necessity" to justify caring about those skills that cause "disparate impact."

Not surprisingly, faced with this assumption of guilt, many firms just impose quotas upon themselves to prevent endless litigation.

In theory, therefore, it's true that undermining current federal government demographic categories could bring down the superstructure of quotas. But keep in mind that we are playing against professionals. Getting the government out of the race racket is for the vast majority of us merely a patriotic pastime. For our opponents, though, manipulating these bureaucratic guidelines for power and profit is what they do for a living.

They've outsmarted us before. Consider the fate of the Multiracial category in the 2000 Census. Many conservatives were quietly pleased that the Census for the first time allowed individuals to identify themselves as belonging to more than one race because the NAACP and other race racketeers were aghast that the size of their quotas might be diminished. Well, the last laugh was on us. Clinton's Office of Management & Budget quietly announced, "Responses that combine one minority race and white are [to be] allocated to the minority race." In other words, the notorious "One Drop Rule" was re-instituted and even extended to races like the American Indian where it had not previously applied.

So, allowing multiracial responses actually made quotas larger.

The problem with getting rid of racial categories is that some (although not all) of these labels describe fairly coherent human lineages, which differ in important ways. Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative, for example, exempts a variety of uses of racial classifications.  The use of racial classifications in government funded medical research would be allowed: "The classifying of medical research subjects shall be exempt." This is highly prudent because scientists are increasingly discovering racial differences in responses to medicine. The Food & Drug Administration, for instance, recently issued a "letter of approvability" for a new heart medicine intended to be prescribed only to blacks. The Financial Times reported, "Human trials of BiDil showed the drug reduced mortality in 66 per cent of African Americans, but proved of little benefit to whites."

Further, when a skeleton is found in the woods, police forensic anthropologists would still be allowed to fill in the Big Four categories of forensic science: race, sex, age, and height: "Nothing in this section shall prevent law enforcement officers, while carrying out their law enforcement duties, from describing particular persons in otherwise lawful ways."

Penitentiary wardens could still segregate prisoners by race to halt race riots and police lieutenants wouldn't have to be colorblind in assigning undercover cops to infiltrate racially-based gangs: "Otherwise lawful assignment of prisoners and undercover law enforcement officers shall be exempt from this section."

These may, or may not be, minor exceptions to Connerly's admirable vision. But they do show that - for at least some purposes - race actually is a highly useful and reasonable classification. While "official colorblindness" may very often be the best tactical response to racial diversity, it still is a form of blindness, a self-imposed denial of potentially relevant information.

I don't want to come out against the Racial Privacy Initiative, but I do want to point out that race is such an important fact of human life that it does have legitimate uses.

Why is race so important? In the next two columns I'm going to look at the genetic data that helps explain why the seemingly crude "black" and "white" classifications, which are still based on the old One Drop of Blood criterion, still turn out to be relevant to a host of issues.

NEXT: The Reality Of Race

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]

June 08, 2001