Guest Editorial
An agenda to get beyond race

By Ward Connerly | November 18, 2009

| More

ward connerlyJust before his assassination, at the height of the tumultuous civil rights movement, President John F. Kennedy defined the national vision for our nation regarding the issue of race when he said, “Race has no place in American life or law.” This vision was reinforced by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who “dreamed” of the day when his four little children would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” These two public figures, in their time, embarked America on a course of “colorblindness.”

Although we annually celebrate the dream of colorblindness, as a tribute to the life of King, during the remainder of the year our nation is obsessed with race – and that fact is damaging to life in America in ways that are beyond measure. Race just seeps out of every pore of our public life.

Think of the controversies that have occupied our attention over the course of the past six months: can a “wise Latina” be a better judge than a white male; did a Camden, Massachusetts police officer “profile” a black Harvard professor solely because of his race; and should a prominent conservative talk show host be allowed to become a part-owner of a National Football League franchise because of things he is accused of saying about race.
Other than boosting beer sales as a result of President Obama injecting himself into the so-called “profiling” incident and giving unwarranted legitimacy to the influence of a couple of high-profile race advocates who jumped on the bandwagon to malign Rush Limbaugh, none of these controversies added any value to our economy or improved the quality of life for anyone. Such is the nature of national lip-flapping episodes about race. They are, at a minimum, a distraction from more substantive issues, such as the need for generating more jobs and effectively reforming our health care system without provoking further damage to the economy or further burdening already overburdened taxpayers.

Worse, our national preoccupation with race is creating permanent divisions within the American people, divisions that may never heal if left unattended. The emphasis on race is resulting in far too many mischaracterizations as “racist” of individuals who don’t fit the description. Rush Limbaugh comes to mind.

Rush is a friend of mine. I know him. I make it a point to pick friends carefully, because I believe in the adage that "you are known by the company you keep.”

I would never count as a friend someone who is prejudiced against someone based on that person’s skin color. Yet, that is what has become of our obsession with race. Individuals such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and countless others can be accused and processed through the national “race ringer” not because of what they said but because of misinterpretations or failure to fact-check the accusations made against them by race demagogues.

Race obsession is also “dumbing down” the quality of America’s higher education system as universities elevate the objective of creating “diversity’ over standards such as academic merit in their student admissions and faculty hiring practices. Race obsession contributes to a weakening of meritocratic standards as fire and police departments discard test results when they don’t produce the amorphous mixture of “diversity” desired in the workforce.
The concept of merit is admittedly imperfect, but it is far superior to practices that favor some over others based solely on factors such as gender, race and ethnicity. Most Americans know this.

Our attorney general, Eric Holder, has said we, as Americans, are “cowards” when it comes to discussing race. Methinks that, perhaps, he is partly right. More than a discussion, however, our nation is in desperate need of leadership to guide us away from race, to take us to that beloved place many thought the election of a biracial president would deliver us – a “post-racial” America. This is a job for the president.

Such leadership should begin by creating and implementing a single standard in public life for all Americans. Get rid of race, gender and ethnic preferences in student placement, college admissions, public employment and public contracting. This can be done by enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its simple command to treat everyone as an equal “without regard” race.

In a “post-racial” America, the government would stop classifying its citizens on the basis of the increasingly flawed concept of “race.” Get rid of the silly little boxes that solicit racial identity. Don’t ask American citizens to choose between their white mother and their black father. Discard the growing multiple race choices that the U.S. Census Bureau offers in place of one box: American.

Finally, let’s just stop talking about race. A friend, Louis Woodhill, often says “when we talk about race, that is all we talk about.” Talking less about race will eventually lead to less of an obsession with it.

“Colorblindness” and using the power of government to create “diversity” are antithetical objectives. They have been on a collision course for decades. It is time to resolve the conflict and return to the course laid out for us by JFK and King and build a nation in which “race has no place in American life or law.”