Address to University of California Board of Regents


November 17, 2004 Address to University of California Board of Regents

Ward Connerly

by Ward Connerly
November 17, 2004


Nelson Mandela once described as “inhumane” the government practice of categorizing and classifying human beings according to their supposed “race.”

I believe you know that I share that observation.

Mr. Mandela could have added “irrational,” “divisive” and “racist” to his description and not been far off the mark.

But, the item that I present to you today is not about my fundamental opposition to race categorization. For now, I accept it for what it is—a political process in which our nation is so heavily invested that the elimination of the process is a virtual impossibility.

Instead, I am presenting this item to you to enlist the support of an institution that prides itself on being enlightened and on the cutting edge of research and public policy, to slightly modify the current system.

Let me explain the basics of our system of categorization.

First, the University currently allows applicants the option of identifying one or more of fourteen different racial or ethnic categories (one of which is “other”), as well as the option of declining to state their racial/ethnic identity.

Second, individuals are allowed to describe their own racial or ethnic identity in the manner of their choosing. Self description is widely touted as the essential component and defense of our system of racial categorization.

Third, once individuals describe themselves, the University collapses what has been described into one of five basic groups, if the individual checks multiple boxes. The basic categories are Asian, Black, Latino, Native American and White.

Fourth, the collapsing decisions are guided by a policy that has its origins in slavery and the Jim Crow era known as the “one-drop” rule. This policy commands that anyone having one-drop of black blood shall be classified as “Black.” For example, a student with one Asian grandparent, two white grandparents and one Black grandparent would be classified as Black. The student is not consulted about this decision and the claim of having a system based on “self-identification” becomes hypocritical at that point. The child of Tiger Woods and his Swedish wife would be classified by UC as “Black,” despite the Woods’ desire for that not to be the sole description of their child.

The University does not include among these categories an item for “multi-racial” or “multi-ethnic,” because federal guidelines recommend against use of such a category. The federal reporting requirements are provided in the background to Item RE-52 and were discussed at the May meeting.

Finally, the University is also guided in its decisions by the desire to increase the “representation” of those groups that are “underrepresented.” Thus, some students are assigned a category based on the numbers enrolled in the various boxes that have been checked.

As an institution, UC prides itself on the principles of “inclusion” and “diversity.” Our system of race categorization is derived from those principles. We recognize how morally offensive it would be for the university to visually inspect our students, staff and faculty and to assign them to a category based on our inspection. The Nazis did that and we profess to want no part of that. But, in practice, what we do is the equivalent of that which we find offensive.

At the direction of the federal government, the University of California—and all other institutions that receive federal funds or that are subject to the control of the federal government—allows individuals who are of multiple races to check more than one box, a small step in the right direction. But, then, the government took a gigantic step backward when it required that all individuals checking multiple boxes be collapsed into one of five super “races,” if you will, thereby preserving the “one drop rule.”

RE-52 proposes that the University of California request that the federal government grant us the option of adopting a “multiracial” category and allowing our students, staff and faculty to choose that option, if they so desire. More than any other state, California’s population warrants such flexibility. There is no compelling national interest in imposing a rigid national race classification system on every state agency, university, village and hamlet of America.

Some may ask why the University of California would not want additional flexibility to identify its student population as the students define themselves. The answers, which have been shared with me by a high-ranking UC official, are quite apparent: first, we need the basic five groups so that we can deliver student services. And, if we adopt a “multiracial” category, the number of black or African American students enrolled at UC will decrease. So, in essence, we must hold those who see themselves as multiracial and who would prefer to be identified as such hostage to the one-drop rule to prop up our racial numbers.

Colleagues, this is the ultimate definition of racism. It may appear to be benevolent, but it is nonetheless racism, sanctioned and practiced by the government.

Some claim that a “multiracial” option would deny others the right to celebrate their diversity. This makes no sense. How does a “multiracial” option prevent others from “embracing” their diverse backgrounds?

No one complains that a “white” option lumps the Swedish Lutheran and the Muslim Turk into the same category. No one complains that the diversity of someone’s Italian and Irish ancestry is lost within a “white” racial category. No one complains that “Hispanic” puts all of Latin America into one simple racial and cultural box. No one complains that the “Asian” option eliminates the differences between the South Asian, the Korean and the Thai. But, somehow, a “multiracial” option will destroy all that mixed race diversity! By what miracle?

If one opposes giving UC students the choice of either a “multiracial” option or a “check all that apply” option, then you are opposing freedom of choice for mixed-race people. Concern for the “accuracy” of the official census is a false concern, if we must create false identities to match our boxes rather than to tabulate that which we are given by those who check the boxes.

One can search high and low in the statistical records of the University of California and not find one multiracial or even multiple box students attending UC, in a state that has, perhaps, the highest multiracial population in the nation. Why? Because we don’t count them as such. In our scheme of things, they don’t exist. We know they are there, but we have created a system that pretends that they don’t exist.

President Dynes has distributed his letter indicating his inability to support RE-52 and conveying his reasons for the position he has taken. While I have profound respect and admiration for our president, I consider this letter and his position not to be one of his more stellar moments of leadership at the helm of the University of California.

Reduced to its most basic arguments, President Dynes’ letter opposes RE-52 because it would place UC in a position of inconsistency with the rest of the nation; and the action being proposed is “premature.”

Colleagues, the existence of multiracial people is not some new fad. We have existed for centuries. In earlier times, the term “mulatto” was loosely used. Or “creole.” Or any number of other terms to generally describe people of “mixed” background.

And, since when does UC fear being out front on an issue? We had no such fear with divestiture. The UCOP was not worried about “inconsistency” with the rest of the nation with regard to the SAT—a matter of far greater magnitude than how students identify themselves on an application form.

But, the statement for which I have the greatest difficulty in containing my contempt, not for Bob, but for the statement, is the following: “Although these results should not be considered definitive, the multi-racial/multi-ethnic students surveyed appear to prefer the current practice.”

By what logic can one leap from 44.1% of a total to the conclusion that the group appears to prefer a current practice? And, why should those who prefer to be identified as “multiracial” in a system that is based on self-identification be required to subjugate their identity to some specious concept of majority-rule, which isn’t even a majority in this case? Have we surveyed black people to determine whether they prefer the term “African American” or Latinos to determine whether they prefer Latino or Hispanic?

Let me conclude by sharing some personal and very private observations [to be improvised]

I plead on behalf of those who have selected a multiracial identity for you to support RE-52.

Thank you.

Ward Connerly, author of the autobiography, Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences, is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute — a national, not-for-profit organization aimed at educating the public about the problems created by racial and gender preferences. Connerly has gained national attention and respect as an outspoken advocate of equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, sex, or ethnic background.


by Ward Connerly


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