State Initiative Seeks to Outlaw Racial Data

An anti-affirmative action activist in California is on a crusade to make the government color blind.

Ward Connerly, who helped end affirmative action at the University of California and in the state’s hiring practices, now wants state officials to stop collecting racial data entirely at taxpayers’ expense.

"In my view, government should not be asking, ‘What is your race?’ any more than, ‘What is your religion or what is your sexual orientation?’" he said.

Connerly recently submitted a petition with nearly one million signatures for a ballot measure called the Racial Privacy Initiative that would prohibit state agencies from gathering information about Californians’ race.

"The root of all race consciousness we have in America is the system of race classification," said Connerly. "It’s a very onerous and morally offensive system in which we look at people and decide which box they’re supposed to check."

Critics of his measure say such statistics help fight racism.

"There are people from all walks of life who live in this state," said Abdi Soltani, executive director of Californians for Justice. "It’s precisely because of how diverse our state is that we need this data to hold government accountable and to ensure our services, our education and our health care are reaching every Californian."

Connerly said that because of existing laws banning racial discrimination, the statistics can’t be used anyway and are collected at great taxpayer expense.

But what he calls divisive, others call essential in tracking how public services are administered.

"Eliminating this data is like burning books," Soltani said. "Why eliminate information that public health officials and educators use to make our society better? It really makes no sense."

If a sufficient number of the petition’s signatures are validated, the Racial Privacy Initiative could be on California ballots either this November or in early 2004.