Why the Obsession with Collecting Racial Data?

by James A. Bacon

To obtain press identification cards granting regular access to the Virginia State Capitol, journalists are asked an assortment of questions such as birth date, driver’s license number — and race. Democrats now in charge of the legislature say they’ve never heard of the race requirement, and critics say it is a reminder of the state’s segregationist past, reports WAMU.

The Capitol Police say asking for the racial identifier is part of a “standard background check,” but some are drawing a link between the requirement and Virginia’s 1924 “Act to Preserve Racial Integrity” and other vestiges of the Jim Crow era.

“I think it’s another manifestation of what we need to get rid of in the state of Virginia,” said attorney Victor Glasberg, who represented three couples suing for the right to get marriage licenses without stating their race. “It’s old Jim Crow [law] that has yet to be thrown out.”

“That question is on so many things. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, driver’s license applications. It’s unnecessary, but no-one ever thought let’s change it,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. “Why do we need to know what race a member of the press is?”

Good question. Why do we need to ask peoples’ race — not just for journalist credentials and marriage licenses, but for any purpose at all? Virginians want a color-blind society, don’t they? Well… don’t they?

As progressives never tire of telling us, race is a “social construct.” Without getting into the sticky question of the correlation between “race” and identifiable physical characteristics such as skin color, hair type, eye shape and the like, I do agree, race is in part a social construct. Once upon a time, race was an instrument of the white ruling caste, which, intent upon preserving its purity, defined what it took to qualify as white. Today race is an instrument of a ruling political class that derives its legitimacy and power in large measure from the cultivation of race-based victimhood, grievance, and identity.

Today’s ruling class. increasingly dominated by the leftist progressive ideology, is almost obsessed with race as the old ruling class. The problem for leftists isn’t that the state is asking for information about race, the problem is for what purposes the state is asking for information about race.

If the racial data point is merely for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of journalists, then it’s illegitimate. If the racial data point can be used to justify an increase in taxes, the proliferation of new programs, and the funneling of resources by the political class to favored identity groups, then it’s entirely OK. Without data on race, for instance, the modern-day Virginia Department of Education would be totally paralyzed and unable to conduct its business.

As Americans and Virginians, we need to ask ourselves, do we want a color-blind society? Or, conversely, are we committed to classifying people by race for the purpose of counteracting undeniable past racial wrongs with policies that are explicitly or implicitly based on race?

Personally, I think tribal, racial/ethnic identity-based politics is a no-win proposition for everyone. We need to embrace an ideology that (1) treats people as unique individuals whose race is only one (and a largely irrelevant one) of many identity-defining attributes, and (2) creates a society which gives everyone an opportunity to improve their lives (but is not guaranteed an outcome). I’d like to get rid of the “race” question, not just in journalism background checks but everywhere. Sadly, in the ideology of modern-day progressivism, in which racial identity is tied inextricably to power, that view probably makes me a racist.