Public health, education, environmental and civil rights organizations across California pledge to fight Ward Connerlys “race information ban,” an initiative measure that will prohibit the collection, analysis or use of information pertaining to race or ethnicity by state and local governments in California. The Sacramento businessman and anti-affirmative action activist said he submitted enough signatures to qualify the initiative for either the November 2002 or the March 2004 ballot.
The groups pointed out that information on race and ethnicity helps us understand and respond to the needs of California’s diverse communities.
“Ward Connerly and his supporters are playing a game of Russian Roulette with California’s public health initiatives, public education, and civil rights protections,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, Speaker Emeritus of the California Assembly. “This initiative will have a devastating effect on Califor-nia’s diverse communities. As Californians, we have come a long way toward making the American Dream a reality for all people, but there is still much work to be done. The initiative proponents would rather deny that there are issues unique to communities of color than work together to resolve challenges that we face in this diverse state.”
The groups identified numerous areas in which information about race and ethnicity hold state and local governments accountable to the communities they serve and help protect all Californians, with public health efforts, educational accountability and civil rights protections topping the list.
“Health data about racial and ethnic groups continues to be extremely useful in developing understanding about differences about health status,” said Carmen Nevarez, M.D., Medical Director with the Public Health Institute and Executive Board member of the American Public Health Association. “Since this information assists us in making wise health investments, why would you take information that’s useful and say it’s against the law? It’s a little bit like burning books.”
“Connerly claims his initiative will end racial and ethnic discrimination, but in reality it will cover it up and allow it to spread and grow in the dark,” said Alice Huffman, President of the California State Conference of the NAACP and a member of the nation board of the NAACP. “The real progress that we have made towards a fairer society depends upon the very information Connerly’s initiative will eliminate. As we continue to strive toward the ideal of equality, we must be able to track our progress and measure what still remains to be done. Connerly’s initiative is a very bid step in absolutely the wrong direction.”
The initiative, the groups charged, will prevent researchers and the public from knowing crucial information such as how many Latino students are graduating from high school, how anti-smoking campaigns can be targeted to be most effective indifferent communities, or why African American women have the highest mortality rates from breast cancer.
“If our schools are to strive for excellence in an era of accountability, educators must have access to every tool in the tool box,” said California Teachers’ Association (CTA) board member Lynette Henley. “Mr. Connerly wants to keep teachers in the dark about demographic date that are crucial in helping us identify and meet the needs of all of our students. This initiative would damage the efforts of California teachers to provide a quality education for all of our children for decades to come.”
“Under this initiative the tobacco industry will be able to collect and use information on race and ethnicity to push cigarettes to our children; yet, that same information cannot be collected and used by the California Public Health Department to protect children and others from the risks of smoking,” said Paul H. Turner, a program director with the Greenlining Institute.
“Californians need to vote ‘no’ on Connerly’s initiative because how likely your children are to have asthma is directly connected to your race; and because if you are Latino, Asian American or African American you are much more likely to get pollution-related cancer,” said Denise Hoffner-Brodsky, environmental justice attorney at the Sierra Club. “Race is the biggest determining factor when it comes to enviroment health. We will not solve this problem by obscuring the facts as Connerly suggests. We will solve this problem by arming ourselves with information.”