The California ‘Equal’ Election

The California ‘Equal’ Election

Of Bold and ‘Same Old’ Choices

Adam Abraham

by Adam Abraham
December 2003/January 2004

SACRAMENTO – History will forever note that on October 7, 2003, the voters of California made two unprecedented choices. One was bold, and the other, “same old.” First, they booted a governor who had spent more money than the state was taking in, was driving established businesses (and jobs) out of the state, watered down immigration policies, and figured that he could always play the “tax card” to cover this tracks. The second choice was to vote down a ballot measure that would have made California the first state to, operationally, begin seeing each citizen with greater racial impartiality.

Voting Gray Davis out as governor was a bold and healthy move for the state of California. It was not only democracy in action; it was accountability and responsibility in action too. While it is unfortunate that the voters didn’t figure it out when Mr. Davis was seeking and winning re-election, they acted quickly—for a state of 35 million people—once the situation was clear.

As bold a call for change that the Gray Davis recall was, the decision on Proposition 54 was marked instead by many of the same old arguments and fears about getting where we say we want to go; i.e., toward a society that is not so “race focused.” The measure, authored by Ward Connerly, Chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute ( and member of the board of Regents for the University of California, could have brought about real as well as symbolic changes in racial dynamics.

Instead, opposition arguments were marked by name-calling, spiteful claims and fearful predictions. They showed little faith in the People’s interest in, or ability to treat each other fairly, without the ever-present “weight” of a government-sanctioned racial bias sitting on every bureaucrat’s shoulder. Fueled by millions of improperly allocated campaign dollars of Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, the opposition campaign amounted to a social whitewash. But what is done is done. Proposition 54 would have called for California to end, albeit with certain clearly outlined exemptions, the state’s de facto practice of collecting race data. It did not make the collection of such data illegal, nor did it impugn the possible value of said data or the people that rely on it. It simply required the state to focus on performing its operational and organizational charter, and no longer automatically set itself up to raise, and in some cases, hand out “race flags” to identify its constituents in the course of conducting its business.

At present, the “racialization” process is procedural and automatic across America, beginning at birth, sometimes before a newborn has even been given a name. We become part of the information data mill long before we are able to decide for our self who we are. Yet, this data is now treated as though it is sacrosanct when, in truth, it means little to an individual’s real worth, place, potential value in, or contribution to our society. However, many people seem to think that it means all that.

Being of “this” or “that” race is inferred to mean something, although few people want to venture a guess as to what. That fact remains that we have become so fixed on collecting the data, even while otherwise complaining about it, that some people act as though we can’t live without it. The more salient fact is that some people think they can’t continue making a living without it. That is one of the most compelling reasons for our government to get out of the data collection business. If race data is so important, then someone will step in to collect, organize, and dispense it. It’s not really about life and death. It is instead about livelihood and debt.

Over 1,000,000 Californians signed petitions to put Proposition 54 on the ballot. Two million eight hundred thousand voted for the measure, and five million voted against it. The “whitewash” was in the political shenanigans that went on by those who (1) spent so much, (2) misstated, misrepresented, or twisted the facts, (3) used innumerable fear tactics, and (4) in some cases, defamed the measure’s chief author, in their efforts to defeat the measure. We can now look back and say, it all worked, but to whose benefit? Perhaps even more importantly, to whose detriment?

There must be something to this notion of equality. Opponents of Proposition 54 all claim to want it. Equality is one of the first premises to catch, if not rivet one’s attention in reading the Declaration of Independence. Imagine in 1776, for someone to read, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, that the notion that “All men are created equal” is self-evident. It was revolutionary; enough so for colonists to gather together against the authority of the British rule to bring a new, sovereign nation, of sovereign people into existence.

However, equality itself was never fully put into practice; not by the people who fought to gain it, or the government that they created. As a practice, slavery had become too important to the economy of the southern states to simply “let it go.” Northerners were too indifferent to anyone considered “new” to get too worked up over the plight of slaves. But all that eventually changed.

Indeed, at one time, Italians, Spanish, Germans, and Jews were all considered to be of different “races.” And let’s not forget how Chinese and Japanese were treated when they came and built much of the west. They were all considered from the same “race,” and not necessarily human, to anyone who considered himself to be white, and right. Migrant workers from Mexico are sometimes given the same regard today as sharecroppers were in a bygone era. And yet, all of these people always were, and are equal as human creations of Nature. The authors of the Declaration of Independence were right. All citizens should be treated equally by their governments, which are creations of men.

On October 7, 2003, Californians chose not to take that closer step to equal practice. Taking race boxes away would not have changed the way we see ourselves. It would not have made us “colorblind.” It would have made the people who sit across from us, who represent our government — from politicians and bureaucrats, to supervisors and clerks — predisposed to racial neutrality when we approach the state on personal matters. This would ensure that each party got a full, impartial, and fair opportunity to present their position without having structured, built-in biases either “opposing” or “helping” them based on their racial or ethnic affiliation.

We’ve come to expect politicians to look straight into the camera and lie to the public, or put self-serving “spins” on facts. We’ve come to expect the same from “legacy activists” who now make a handsome living by supporting arguments that maintain the status quo rather than those that would bring about changes that will actually help “their people.” But when do we say, “enough already?!”

The NAACP opposed Proposition 54. That’s no surprise. But when do we call their representatives to task for the tasteless, vacuous, and vituperate remarks that they make? While speaking to a group of attorneys in San Francisco, Alice Huffman, a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors, president of the association’s California state conference, and oversees 67 local branches and 30 college chapters and youth groups, said the following:

“I’ve got to tell you that we have at least a few people in black skin who think that the white man is still superior. They have a little problem and that problem is they want a colorblind society. And I have decided they want a colorblind society because they just plain don’t like being black.”

This “leader,” who has so much influence in organizations that affect so many people, was making not-so-oblique references to men like Ward Connerly, sponsor of Proposition 54, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

She made even more preposterous statements against then candidate, and now governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There are a few people in this world that still believe that white men born in America are superior. If you want a live example . . . all you have to do is tune into the recall election and you will hear Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“We all found it offensive,” Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, who Ms. Huffman addressed. She particularly disliked Huffman’s joking that the “last part of his name doesn’t register well with me” — a reference to the –negger portion of Schwarzenegger.

Can you find the real message in these statements? They are not in the words, although the words themselves are indeed reprehensible. The message is in the sentiment. It is one of fear and loathing, dishonor and disrespect, and a total disregard for the truth, or even for those who were listening. The message is that we aren’t “ready” to change, which is not true. The truth is that some of us don’t want to, and don’t have faith in our ability to stand on our own without exploiting the “guiltability” of others.

Guilt is a bull market for a few legacy activists these days. One of the leading “godfathers of guilt,” Jesse Jackson, made an appearance to support the crumbling fortunes of Gray Davis, and oppose the threat represented by Proposition 54. Former president Bill Clinton did likewise. Former surgeon general C. Everett Coop gave the outright false statements that had been echoed by medical lobbies and other groups the air of objective credibility. At the local level, educators with Ph.D’s behind their name claimed that in another 200-300 years, we’d be ready for government that isn’t race biased. Other men, clad in $1,000 suits claimed that if young black men don’t get apprentice jobs in the energy industry, they will “jack your cars and rob your homes.”

Apparently after reading a number of press releases, presidential candidate Howard Dean weighed in with his own that recited, chapter and verse, the same fears and misstatements that other opponents of the measure claimed. There was nothing original in his argument, and each concern (e.g., medical and law enforcement provisions) had been respected and accounted for in Proposition 54 language, but simply dismissed.

This was an enlightening experience… one that I’m glad I had a chance to witness. Having a colorblind government doesn’t mean that anyone will become colorblind. It also doesn’t mean that the various “gaps” and “divides” that rightfully trouble us all will go away. But let’s stop fooling ourselves by saying that being able to track the data is going to change all that. An obsession with data ensures that significant numbers of people will continue watching, complaining about, and even profiting from, the problem, instead of rolling up their sleeves, jumping in, and doing something positive to solve it.

It doesn’t matter what the race of an under-achiever is. Why should government care more about a member of one group, who may or may not need help, than it cares about, and is responsive to a member of another? All that matters is that he gets help that is needed, knowing he will be treated with equal concern, and afforded all available options of recourse. It’s so simple when we start being the solution instead of complaining about the problem.

Adam Abraham is author of I Am My Body, NOT! and A Freed Man: An Emancipation Proclamation (Phaelos Books), and host and producer of An Equal America. Mr. Abraham can be reached via email at, or through his web site,

Copyright © 2003 Adam Abraham. All rights reserved. <

One comment

  1. Dear Adam,

    Thank you for your excellent article in the Multiracial Activist regarding what happened this autumn in California. To comment on it, I would have to print it out and go over it point for point, which I cannot do as my printer is currently on the fritz. For other interested readers, Mr Abraham’s article can be found at:

    I see your analysis as being very clearly on target. The statement from the NAACP’s Alice Huffman that you quoted:

    “I’ve got to tell you that we have at least a few people in black skin who think that the white man is still superior. They have a little problem and that problem is they want a colorblind society. And I have decided they want a colorblind society because they just plain don’t like being black.”
    is certainly one of the most telling and pathetic paradoxes I have seen thus far in terms of the absurd thinking that brought Prop 54 down. Here, I shall reprint a letter that I sent to OneDropRule yesterday, because I think it relates to exactly what your article examines.

    “Dear Frank (Frank Sweet),
    Sometimes we hear something or see something that gets us thinking in a totally unexpected way…not that we haven’t thought about the problem before, but rather that viewing it from a different angle (one opened by some other informant), presents another understanding of it. You wrote:
    According to _Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary_, 11th
    edition (2003), “caste” is simply “a system of rigid social
    stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy
    [marriage within the group], and social barriers sanctioned by
    custom, law, or religion.”

    Now of course I know this very well; being a translator, words are my mongering stock-in-trade. But I don’t think I reflected much on it, until the proverbial light-bulb switched on in my head, and I realised that what Americans mean when they say ‘race’, is in fact ‘caste’. ‘Race’, as you have informed us many times, is something that shifts in the public eye for one reason or another, depending on place, circumstance, time, etc. As you have pointed out, many groups only became ‘white’ after a long period of time, including Irish, Greeks, Italians, Armenians (didn’t they sue to be called ‘white’ at some point?) and Jews (who were considered a non-white ‘race’ well into the ’30s). What we’re watching today is an evolution along those same lines. Today the Arabs, Asians, Hispanics and Indians who are flooding the American job markets are taking on, irrespective of their actual colours or racial backgrounds, a de facto ‘whiteness’ that releases them from the stigma of being the ‘Other’ in the caste system. They are swiftly but surely, in their accents and attitudes, becoming mainstream, and they are not included in the ‘caste system’ by anyone but the most backward race vigilantes.

    On the other hand, the situation is different for self-identified Anglo ‘blacks’ (or ‘African Americans’, whatever that animal is). Clinging, for political reasons, to the idea of being ‘black’ –thus somehow ‘apart’ and therefore subject to special treatment, privileges and exceptions of all kinds, not to speak of being the real or imagined object of persecution on every imagineable level (victim mentality) — only nourishes the caste system that has always put American ‘blacks’ at the bottom of the barrel, looked down on by everyone else. There is nothing to be gained in this antiquated obstinacy, in naming kids ‘Shakir’ and ‘Shuranda’, except better political opportunities for the likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Julian Bond.

    As I was writing to a close friend tonight, the whole thing fairly crystallised in my mind, and I wrote the following:

    “No one else matters in this caste system but ‘blacks’; they alone are its raison d’être, the vortex around which it swirls. Without them, it would not exist. And as long as ‘blacks’ continue to resist the idea of being full-fledged and thoroughly entitled ‘Americans’ by voluntarily setting themselves sharply apart from everyone else, they will never reap the full benefit of what they have sown on American soil for the last 400 years. I believe the caste system works two ways: You cannot have one person maintaining a ‘superior’ position with regard to another person if the latter does not acquiesce, in one way or another, to being in an ‘inferior’ position. And it doesn’t matter a damn whether the stance of the ‘inferior’ one is defiant or supine (this is very central to my point). The very fact that he somehow acknowledges himself as being in the position in which he is ensconced — indeed, as we know, guards it fiercely! — is the indicator that he is prepared to accept it, even as he puts a price on it, demanding that the ‘superior caste’ make all sorts of attempts to ameliorate the very harm that he allows them to do by consciously and demonstratively functioning as their ‘Other’, their opposite pole. I think that’s the mess we’re in.”

    Yes, I do think that’s the mess we’re in. In my view, no one has more to gain from the elimination of racial categorisation than ‘black’ Anglos, and yet they are the fiercest defenders of it.

    I think we need to focus more on this ‘caste’ question, because it is in truth what we have been discussing all along. As more and more dark-skinned foreigners get themselves a foothold, socially and economically, in American life; as the Human Genome Project progresses, the more beside-the-point ‘race’ becomes. No, I don’t think, as John insinuated, that ‘race’ is ‘a thing of the past’ — that’s far from where I’m coming. But the implications of ‘caste’ thinking should be made more clear. If ‘race’ is a biological and scientific chimera, it nevertheless wields a terrible clout as a ‘caste’ weapon. Or what do you folks have to say on all this?”
    Your own article also reflects what I’m saying above, and yes, Ms Huffman, you are dead right: I don’t at all like being ‘black’ in the sense of belonging to some untouchable caste! I revere my African blood, the same way I know that most Hispanics and Arabs do; but you don’t see them compronising themselves into the American caste system, claiming that every other ‘racial’ or ‘ethnic’ influence in their heredity counts for nothing.

    Much of the way I feel is a product of having lived 40 years in Europe. Here, when someone says that a person is ‘black’, he means that the individual in question is of recognisably sub-Saharan African phenotype: In other words, he is really talking about ‘race* (however misguided that thinking may be, but that’s another chapter), he is not talking about ‘caste’. In regarding, say, any of the numerous mixed-race young stars (in everything from sports to music to journalism) here in Sweden, the Swede describes them as ‘mixed-race’ or ‘mulatto’, not as ‘black’. To the Swede, a ‘black’ is a Nigerian or a Gambian or a Congolese, not someone who is half-Swedish. In fact, the Swede would feel seriously ‘dissed’ by someone’s implying that Swedish blood counted for nothing in a mixed-race person’s background. You see, that’s where I’m coming from; ‘caste’ and ‘race’ are not the same thing, even though both of them fully deserve to be flushed down history’s toilet.

    Ms Huffman is secure in her position as one of those who floats on top of the pariah caste, accepting a demeaning status because it nevertheless affords her a position of privilege and power with respect to those beneath her. My God, how people like her disgust me!

    I, and my children and my grandchildren will only be visible when America becomes a colourblind society. In the meantime, I shall never again commit to belonging to any other ‘race’ than the human race.

    Best regards,

    Mon 1/19/2004 6:49 PM

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