Race An Outdated Concept?
by Seth Sandronsky
May 14, 2003
It’s time to move past the concept of racial categories, according to columnist George Will. “The obsessing of many Americans about race,” he wrote on May 4, flies in the face of improving relations between races.
There is, of course, only one race—human beings. But that’s not Will’s point.
He chided some groups who have failed to see racial progress in the U.S.
These malcontents whine louder the more this improves.
Those unable to see this reality are in the business of politicizing race.
Will is unhappy with them.
Such scoundrels can be found in the Democratic Party, “professional civil rights groups” and among liberals generally. Liberals, for example, tend to see racial inequality in terms of black and white relations.
On that note, blacks are over-represented in U.S. jails and prisons. Here’s one example of this racial divide, based on recent data from the Justice Department: At yearend 2001 there were 3,535 sentenced black male prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,177 sentenced Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 462 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.
In 1997, nine percent of black Americans (both females and males) were under some form of criminal justice control nationwide, the Justice Department reported. Two percent of whites were similarly supervised.
“The new incarceration numbers are essentially casualty statistics from a centuries long, one-sided war that is escalating toward some unknown, ghastly conclusion,” The Black Commentator editorialized on April 10 (http://www.blackcommentator.org/37/issue_37.html)
In the meantime, Will cited federal census figures on race to call for their abolition. “Because Hispanics have supplanted blacks as America's largest minority, it is time to remove the race question from the census form,” he wrote.
Presumably, census enumeration of blacks was only a good thing when they were the nation’s most populous minority group. It’s worth noting that before the legal end of slavery, blacks only appeared on the census if they had been freed.
And for a century after the Civil War, except briefly during Reconstruction, the majority of blacks remained second-class citizens. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s ended the legal framework for this substandard treatment, called Jim Crow.
Progress, to be sure. America needs more of it.
To that end, Will has a plan. Here it is.
“Battles over quotas, preferences and other badges of victimhood and diminished competence,” he wrote, would fade with the elimination of the government’s racial categories. End don’t mend affirmative action based on race, is his wish.
From the right, Will is urging a reduction in government intervention on behalf of the politically powerless. In this case, blacks.
Here, Will is on the same policy page in deed but not rhetoric with former President Clinton. Both are cut from the same cloth, with different approaches to weakening social spending.
As a supposed liberal, Clinton entered the White House promising to provide all the nation’s citizens with health care. But once elected, the promise evaporated; in his second term he ended welfare.
Clinton talked left and moved right. Millions of Americans fell for his act.
Will talks right to move public opinion further in that direction. It is unclear how influential this pundit is.
But clearly pigs will fly before Will’s proposal on race enumeration creates racial equality in America. For that to happen, a new and sustained politics of social participation will have to emerge.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento/Yolo Peace Action, and an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org