Jewish World Review May 9, 2002 / 26 Iyar, 5762

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

Tired of race? | University of California Regent Ward Connerly, who led the fight that ended group preferences in California state government, has moved on to promote an initiative that would forbid state agencies from identifying individuals by race. Decades ago, such a proposal was on the cutting edge of liberalism. Today, it is considered not only conservative but unrealistic.

Even those who agree with Mr. Connerly have doubted whether such an idea could even get enough signatures to be put on the ballot this November. But it did. Even more surprising, polls now show that most Californians are in favor of getting rid of racial designations on government forms and in government records.

Whether these poll numbers will hold up from now until election time, with the whole media establishment in California certain to be against it, is another story. But it is significant that so many people, even in this liberal-left state, are tired of race as an issue and a subject of government policy.

We should all be tired of it. Race has become a racket. It is a very lucrative racket for the likes of Jesse Jackson, who has been able to pry big bucks from big corporations by threatening to organize boycotts against them, which might imply that they were racist. Race has become a political racket as well, with "racism" charges being thrown around with reckless abandon, especially at election time.

None of this helps anyone in the ghettos. On the contrary, it distracts attention from the many means available to all people today to equip themselves with education and skills to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities.

The negativism spread among minority young people by those who promote racial hype may not only lead these youths into blind alleys, but even into violence that can leave them with felony convictions that will handicap them for years to come -- far more than racism can.

Genuine concern for the advancement of blacks or any other group is one thing. But scavenging for grievances is something else.

During last year's election campaign, for example, the fact that black youngsters in Texas had higher test scores than black youngsters in other states carried no political weight whatever, compared to all the furor over a confederate flag flying over the state capitol in South Carolina.

The fact that George W. Bush did not think it was his place to tell people in South Carolina what to do about a flag hurt him far more politically than he was helped by the educational advancement of black children under his own administration in Texas.

Is a flag more important than the education of the next generation? Unfortunately, symbols repeatedly trump realities, when the focus is on group grievances rather than wider opportunities for all.

Imagine a city dominated politically for decades by conservative Republicans, where the city's black population declined by 20 percent in 10 years. Would this not set off a media frenzy, with charges of "racism" flying hither and yon? But when the city has been dominated politically for decades by liberal Democrats, a decline of 20 percent in the black population in 10 years does not even get a mention. That city, incidentally, is San Francisco.

The point here is that, if it doesn't lead to a charge of "racism," who cares? The mere fact that the city has become unaffordable to large numbers of blacks, as a result of liberal policies that drive housing costs sky-high, doesn't matter to the media.

Focus on race has meant focus on grievances. Other things that can advance or hinder the progress of all people get short shrift. Hyping group identity is a practice with a track record of polarization and disaster in countries around the world. Riots in India, civil war in Sri Lanka, massacres in Rwanda, and atrocities in the Balkans are just some of the recent history of havoc left by group identity politics.

What is the point of continuing to feed racial hype that benefits only a relative handful of race hustlers? Maybe we ought to consider getting the federal government out of the race business as well.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate