F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
April 23, 2000
We Must Refuse to be Defined by Race

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Are you tired of forms, surveys, and questionnaires that demand to know what race you are? Well, if we all gave the same answer, maybe they'd stop asking!

Census takers who tally my head
Will not know if I'm black, white, or red:
Because, in the space
Designated for race,
I inscribed the word "human" instead.

"The battle against government-mandated racial discrimination is being pursued primarily through mainstream political means," reports Cornell University student Barry Schnorr. "Recently, politicians have become more confident in their opposition to affirmative action," Schnorr observes. "Where governments have failed to act, voters have taken the initiative. In the past couple of years," he notes, "citizens have approved Proposition 209 in California and Initiative 200 in Washington, effectively eliminating racial preferences in hiring and admissions."

In an essay originally published in the Cornell Review and reprinted in The Egalitarian, the newsletter of the American Civil Rights Institute, Barry Schnorr calls for "action to raise awareness and speed up the process." He recommends "a strategy which will stress the fundamental principle of our opposition to affirmative action: that individuals should not be judged on the basis of their skin color. We need a strategy," Schnorr continues, "which will force our opponents to acknowledge that they stand for discrimination. We need a strategy which will, if unchecked, accomplish directly the goal which we would hope to attain politically: a government which is colorblind, and which does not force private institutions to consider race."

Schnorr's idea is deceptively simple: "Whenever you encounter a line, checkbox, or bubble asking for 'race' or 'ethnicity' on a form or application, refuse to fill it in," he advises. "By refusing to give information about your race," Schnorr argues, "you live out the principle that your race does not matter. This will be true," he emphasizes, "regardless of your ethnicity. If you are Asian or Caucasian, this will protect you from charges that you benefit from the mystical beast of 'institutional racism.' If you are a member of an 'under-represented group,' this will keep you clear of the doubt that you benefitted from the real institutional racism known as affirmative action. Or," suggests Schnorr, "instead of leaving the race question blank, you also could check 'Other' and write in 'human,' or your own name, or anything else clever that strikes your fancy." How about "American"? Or "Rat (Race)"? For sports fans: "Indianapolis 500" or "Kentucky Derby"? For political candidates: "Presidential," "Gubernatorial," or "Congressional"?

Schnorr delights in the prospect of "what would happen if most people did this! Businesses, colleges, and other institutions would not be sure whether they were meeting their minority recruitment goals -- requirements or not. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be intensely frustrated. They would be forced to admit they are dealers in racism. They might have to resort to insisting that information about race be given or found. If enough people hid their race," Schnorr predicts, "affirmative action would collapse."