August 15, 2003

Commentary

Vote No on Proposition 54, the “Racial Information Ban,” on the October 7, Recall Ballot

By Marvin E. Mizell, Esq

Unless there is a successful legal challenge, Proposition 54, the deceptively called “Racial Privacy Initiative,” will be on the October 7, 2003, recall ballot. Proposition 54, whose main proponent is University of California Regent Ward Connerly, would prohibit the classification and collection of information regarding race, ethnicity, color and national origin in the State of California and all of its subdivisions (including counties and cities) starting on January 1, 2005.

Proposition 54 will not, as its supporters argue, lead to a “color blind” California. Nor does the proposition have anything to do with its supporters’ deceptive use of the term “privacy.” In reality, if Proposition 54 becomes law, it will ban valuable information collected by state agencies and institutions that show huge differences in California between racial and ethnic groups in regard to health care, education, employment, housing, law, hate crimes, and racial profiling. Because it would ban the collection of racial data, Proposition 54 is more accurately called the “Racial Information Ban.”

This ban on racial information would be particularly troubling in regard to health care and education. In health care, for example, state collected information shows how African Americans and Latinos have a disproportionately high level of infant mortality, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Supporters of Proposition 54 say that a medical research exemption within Proposition 54 would help maintain vital racial and ethnic information. This argument is false. Although there is an exemption for medical research, it is almost certain that exemption only applies to controlled research studies and not to the vast majority of public health information. Indeed, based on the numerous physicians and over forty health care organizations that oppose Proposition 54, including the California Medical Association and Kaiser Permanente, it is clear that the supporters’ claim about the scope of the medical research exemption is false.

In education, for example, state collected information shows stark differences between African American and Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts on state standardized tests, on graduation rates, on the experience level of teachers who teach them, and on college attendance in the UC and CSU systems. In short, if Proposition 54 becomes law, it simply will not be known whether the “achievement gap” is closing. This lack of information is especially troubling in light on the soon to be implemented high school exit exam, which apparently will have the same achievement gap between students. The devastating effect Proposition 54 would have in education is made clear by the strong opposition from many educational groups, including the California Teachers Association, and Ward Connerly’s own University of California Board of Regents.

Clearly, without the valuable information Proposition 54 would ban, Californians, who live in the most racially the ethnically diverse state in the United States, would be prevented from knowing if the racial and ethnic disparities noted above have improved or have become worse. Worse yet, Proposition 54 would remove safeguards against, and eliminate accountability for, racial and ethnic discrimination, because such discrimination would be near impossible to prove without the information Proposition 54 would ban.

Also, the destruction and racial divisiveness created by Proposition 54 would also be completely unnecessary, because it is already voluntary and anonymous for a person to give, or not give, their racial identity on a form from the State of California.

Indeed, Proposition 54 would be so destructive in its ban of racial information, that Tom Wood, the co-author of Proposition 209 that ended affirmative action in California, has declared his opposition to Proposition 54.

The reality is that racial disparities in California exist in health care, education, housing, employment, law, and in many other areas. Californians must face these problems head on and not simply act as though the problems do not exist by banning the collection of racial information. Ignorance will not lead to bliss, particularly on the important issue of race. In short, Proposition 54 would not lead to a “color blind” California, but lead to a California that is “blind” to inequities that are based on “color.”

Vote no on Proposition 54, the “Racial Information Ban,” on the October 7, 2003, recall ballot.

Marvin E. Mizell, Esq., is immediate Past President of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association and Member of the California Association of Black Lawyers.

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