In a recent column [~1997], George Will of the Washington Post, makes a thoughtful contribution to the national dialogue on race.
In that column, Mr. Will calls for the elimination of race classifications in the government census. Regular readers know that is a position I have long advocated. I welcome Mr. Will to my side of the debate.
In his column, “Abolishing Census Categories Could Make Us All Americans,” Mr. Will acknowledges that racial identities do not fall into “fixed, easily definable categories.” He notes for example, the law once classified the “Irish” race as nonwhite.
At the same time, he opens the door to include the following as members of the white brotherhood: Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Jesse Owns and Roy Campanella; by virtue of the fact that each of these Americans had a white parent. He affirms in the white-race cousinhood Martin Luther King, who had a white grandmother, as well as W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X, who had white ancestry.
When President Clinton called on Americans to begin a constructive dialogue about race, I am confident he didn’t expect to hear from George Will. The President expected the conversation about race to be conducted within the traditional black/white racial paradigm; the way Americans always talk about race (white domination and black victimization). That didn’t happen, because many Americans are getting over their obsession with race and becoming more inclusive and tolerant of others who look different.
More Americans are marrying other-race spouses than ever before. According to the census, the number of interracial children in 1990 exceeded 2 million. Will says, the census racial category ‘Other’ doesn’t correctly describe these children.
As he put it, “…the ‘other’ category is unsatisfactory, because it does not contribute to an accurate snapshot of the population, and it offends sensibilities: Why should a child of a white-black marriage be required to identify with one parent, or as an ‘Other’?”
The answer to Will’s question, is this; Many Americans, and the President may be among them, don’t want to eliminate government racial categories. These Americans say that if we end race classifications there will be no way for the responsible agencies of government to track the progress, or lack thereof, toward eliminating racial discrimination.
To those who argue that we need government racial bean-counters to track race discrimination; I say, “cow manure.” Clearly, it doesn’t take the United States government to tell you when somebody is being discriminated against. Just watch the U.S. Senate debate on C-SPAN or look at a picture of the members of the board of directors of any major corporation. You would not be reading this column if you were oblivious to the fact that far too few women and people of color are in either picture.
At the same time, you are equally blinded if you see skin color, by itself, as the determining factor in anything: not rates of poverty, not crime, not fatherlessness, nor any of the other social pathologies government racial bean-counters so often ascribe to dark-skinned Americans.
The sad reality is race classification taints the individual’s internalized value system, spoiling the way individuals views themselves. Classifying individuals into racial groups results in group-thinking, with members of the group exchanging individuality for a group-identity. In America, both stereotypes; white superiority and black inferiority, stem from group-thinking.
Our culture tends to program many white people to see themselves as superior to non-white people. Therefore, non-white folks are forced to accept an inferior view of themselves or re-internalize their perceived inferior status as one of victimization.
George Will’s column does the American people a great service by providing wide publication of some of the absurdities surrounding government racial classifications.
As Americans learn to identify and avoid the irrational aspects of racial-group-think politics, our nationhood will be strengthened. Until that time, we will continue to be divided by such mundane human traits as skin color, hair texture and eye appearance.
Originally Published: 15 October 1997, Montgomery Advertiser