Racial Classifications Seem Step Back In Time

Posted: May 11, 2001 12:00 AM
Liberals used to say, "The United States is the only country in the world in which a white woman can give birth to a black baby, but a black woman cannot give birth to a white baby." This was a reference to the "one-drop rule," which held that if you had a single "drop" of black blood in you - say, from your great-great-great grandfather - you were black. And liberals were right to be horrified by the practice. Of course, today we hear nothing but applause or silence from "liberals," even this week as the federal government proposes laws more reminiscent of Jim Crow than Martin Luther King. In the '60s, blacks and whites alike marched on Washington, sat at lunch counters, boycotted, picketed, staged sit-ins, protested and shouted from the mountain tops that this was not the kind of country they wanted to live in. Sadly, it looks like they were failures. Today, the federal government operates under the "one-drop rule" of the old Jim Crow South. Oh, sure, we don't officially call it the one-drop rule, but then again, neither did the state governments of the old South. And, yeah, our intentions are noble, but the fact remains that the one-drop rule is still in effect in the United States. For example, on the 2000 census form, if someone indicated that he was black, white, Indian, Asian, European, Hispanic and Hmong, the government counted that person as simply black for purposes of allotting government benefits and privileges. This was the result of a political compromise in which the Census Bureau got to divide the country into a more accurate 126 flavors of ethnicity, while at the same time black groups, like the NAACP, and race hustlers, like Jesse Jackson, got to count the highest number of blacks possible. They reasoned, rightly, that the more "blacks" there are in the country, the higher the percentage of "proportionate" benefits for blacks. The irony here is that the NAACP, which once claimed the moral high ground by fighting the one-drop rule, finds itself fighting to keep it a generation later. The old dream of racial liberals was to replace a quota system that kept blacks and Jews out of universities with a colorblind system where people are "judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin." Today, it is considered racist to advocate colorblind policies in government, universities or businesses. Worse, racialists reject the idea that we should (ital) ever (end ital) be a colorblind society. In 1995, an African-American civil-rights attorney argued in the Vanderbilt Law Review that since so many government benefits attach to racial identity, we need to impose "fines and immediate job or benefit termination" for those who "falsified their racial identity." He advocated creating a body of law recognizing the "permanent importance" of racial classifications. As Stephen Thernstrom of Harvard University has written, such arguments track Jim Crow arguments perfectly. For example, in the 1920s, Virginia law required statewide racial classification for all citizens and imposed a year in jail if you reported your race "falsely." Well, just last week we drifted further back in time. As Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity reported this week on National Review Online, the Department of Transportation has just proposed new rules requiring "proof of ethnicity" for participants in its Disenfranchised Business Enterprise program. They are clamping down on people who try to "fraudulently participate in the DBE program by falsely asserting to be a member of one of the (favored) groups." If there is "a well-founded reason to doubt the veracity" of an applicant's membership in a favored race he is required to bring a "a signed and notarized statement of group membership." Usually, "a driver's license or a birth certificate may be adequate types of proof of ethnicity," read the guidelines. "However, in cases where the required proof does not indicate specific races, such as Hispanic or Native American," then some other "single piece of evidence may be required." These include, "naturalization papers, Indian tribal roll, tribal voter registration certificate, a letter from a community group, educational institution, religious leader, or government agency stating that the individual is a member of the claimed group, or a letter from the individual setting forth specific reasons for believing himself/herself to be a member of the designated group." Maybe it's just me, but this seems an awful long way from Martin Luther King's dream of a world where everybody is judged by the content of their character.