The Language of the New Racism: “People of Color”

Who has more skin pigmentation, this Korean-American “person of color” or…

by James A. Bacon

So far Steve Haner is the only journalist in the state of Virginia to have remarked upon the most significant attribute of the the most consequential legislation to pass both the state Senate and House of Delegates this session — a provision in the Omnibus Energy bill that would bequeath special treatment upon that most amorphous but oh-so-politically-correct racial category, “People of Color.” (See “Energy Omnibus III: Race, Poverty and Justice.”)

The omnibus bill, as Steve has explained in his three-post series, would radically overhaul Virginia’s electricity infrastructure, making it greener and more expensive. In tacit acknowledgment that restructuring the electric grid will cost rate payers billions of dollars, legislators would insulate low-income Virginians from rate increases and also would engage in racially preferential hiring for utility construction contracts in “historically economically disadvantaged communities.”

How is such a community defined?

Historically economically disadvantaged community” means a community that is (i) a community in which a majority of the population are people of color or (ii) a low-income geographic area.

…this olive-complected white woman?

And what is meant by “people of color?” The legislation provides no illumination. Neither, as far as I can find, does the Code of Virginia. A search of the Code of Virginia turns up not a single reference to “people color.” There are innumerable statements in the code prohibiting discrimination against Virginians based on color (or race, religion, national origin, etc.) But “people of color” is an alien concept.

In common parlance, “People of color” refers to non-whites. The phrase has no legal meaning — which is understandable because it is scientifically and sociologically meaningless. It is a lumpen-ethnicity, constructed by ideological progressives, comprised of another lumpen-ethnicities such as African-Americans (including immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean), Hispanic-Americans (a language grouping), Asian-Americans (including groups with skin colors ranging from lily-white to coal-black), and American Indians. The unifying factor, according to the Wikipedia entry on “Person of color,” is “common experiences of systemic racism.”

Most people would agree that African-Americans and were subjected to systemic racism in Virginia under slavery and Jim Crow and to a diminishing degree since the dismantling of segregation. One can argue that “society” owes something to African-Americans as a race by way of compensation for injustices done to their ancestors. (I don’t make that argument, but I understand it.)

By contrast, there is no history of legal discrimination against Asians (unless you count admissions policies to elite public universities) or Hispanics in this state. To the contrary, Asians and Hispanics were a demographic rounding error in Virginia until recent years, and those who live here came to pursue economic opportunity. Asians out-perform whites in educational achievement and in median household income, and it is an absurdity to suggest that they are by any measure “disadvantaged.” While it is true that Hispanics as a group have lower incomes than whites, it is also true that a large percentage of Hispanics were both poor and ill educated when they emigrated to the state; they owe their disadvantage to their condition before they came to Virginia, not to their treatment once they got here. 

Nevertheless, under the Omnibus legislation, in constructing new electric facilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power shall “give priority to the hiring of local workers, including workers from historically economically disadvantaged communities,” which means lower-income Virginians and “people of color.” The bill would institutionalize preferential hiring practices on the basis of race/ethnicity — not just for races/ethnicities that suffered legal discrimination in the past, but groups favored by the leftist ideological flavor of the month.

Surely, such blatantly discriminatory verbiage flies in the face of the anti-discrimination language of the Code of Virginia and the Virginia Constitution. 9For a discussion of the constitutional issues, see Hans Bader’s column, “Racial Preferences in Energy Bill Are Unconstitutional.”0 Surely, if enacted, the language will be struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court. Even so, the people-of-color clause in the legislation should give all Virginians pause….  including people of color. What the General Assembly arbitrarily giveth, the General Assembly can arbitrarily taketh away. It is in no one’s best interest to start carving out exemptions for the inviolable principle of anti-discrimination under the law.

Embarking upon a regime of reverse discrimination is not what voters bargained for when they elevated Democrats to a majority in the General Assembly. There are ways to create an Opportunity-for-All society that do not require establishing invidious new racial privileges.