California Ballot Measure Seeks Diminution of Race Data

Article excerpt

Civil rights provocateur Ward Connerly will announce today his effort to secure a ballot measure that would prevent California public agencies, including colleges and universities, from collecting data on race and ethnicity.

"Race has created an artificial division, not because of economic circumstances or a true difference in people's lives, but because of an `us and them' mind-set, which flows from racial classifications," Mr. Connerly said in an interview yesterday, 24 hours before he was scheduled to announce his effort at press conferences in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

"By definition, we are putting people in separate places, when they really aren't different at all."

Mr. Connerly's group, the American Civil Rights Coalition, will begin this month to solicit 700,000 signatures from registered voters in order to put the new measure on a March 2002 ballot.

The coalition noted the heavy focus on race in the 2000 census, which many saw as intrusive, as proof that U.S. governments have become too race-conscious.

"Polls show that four of five Americans support ending these silly little boxes," said Kevin Nguyen, a spokesman for the group. "On top of that, there is increased anxiety from Census 2000 and people filling out those questions pertaining to race, which took up nearly half the form."

The measure has exemptions that let several agencies keep racial data, including law enforcement and medical-research agencies.

Mr. Connerly's new measure is his second effort to remedy what he sees as a culture obsessed with race and damaging "racial bean counting." Proposition 209 went through the same process to win voter approval in 1996.

"This is 209 a step further, this is the end zone," said Mr. Connerly, a University of California regent. "Despite 209, every government agency still collects these racial data and puts out studies with statistical inferences, trying to use race as baggage."

His foes are by now traditional: Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People weighed in immediately with pointed criticism of Mr. Connerly's plan yesterday.

"This is a wolf in sheep's clothing promoted by the same people who have long opposed affirmative action," said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU's Southern California office. …