Higher education is the de facto gateway to economic success and political power in the United States. Moreover, as blacks and other so-called minorities remain significantly underrepresented in colleges and universities, fewer of the statistical data, transcripts, speeches, legal records and other such documentation are utilized in research with the goal of effectively quantifying challenges and successes among black Americans. Proposition 54, which will be on the ballot along with the gubernatorial recall, threatens to erase the very statement of black existence in government data.

The proponents of Prop 54 would like to see the following added to the California Constitution:

“(a) The state shall not classify any individual by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting or public employment.

“(k) For the purposes of this section, ‘state’ shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, the state itself, any city, county, city and county, public university system, including the University of California, California State University, community college district, school district, special district or any other political subdivision or governmental instrumentality of or within the state….”

According to an October 2002 issue of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, black students graduate from college at a rate of 38 percent nationwide, compared to a national average of 60 percent for white students. The journal goes on to state that though more black students receive education in California than in any other state, black students in California graduate at a rate of 28.1 percent compared to a 64.3 percent graduation rate for their white counterparts.

Also: According to a 2002 U.S. Census Bureau report entitled “The Black Population in the United States,” blacks accounted for one-fourth of the nation’s poverty in 2001.

In 2002, 36,200,000 people in the United States were classified as black by the U.S. Census Bureau. Less than 9.8 percent held at least a four-year college degree.

Blacks with a 4-year college degree improve their incomes by 104 percent over blacks with a high school diploma only.

Medical research would also be hampered if Prop 54 is passed. Doctors and researchers use statistical data from individuals who would not fit the definition of “medical research subject” that is specified in the exemption. Trends, rates of disease and life expectancies would be more difficult, if not impossible to keep track of.

Breast cancer rates vary between different ethnic groups. Breast cancer researchers in California have long depended on population estimates which are calculated by the California Department of Finance.

Research has found data regarding health differences between ethnic groups. According to a report published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Japanese and Filipinos have the highest rates of diabetes, one in five African-American children suffer regular asthma attacks and African-American men have high blood pressure at a rate twice that of Latinos and whites. It is reasonable to assume that medical researchers may find this information relevant.

Statistical data also help researchers identify civil rights abuses.

Earlier this year, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The class action lawsuit was touched off by an incident in which the car of a Latino lawyer was searched as part of a drug interdiction operation. According to ACLU researchers who studied one million CHP traffic stops, Latino drivers were three times more likely to be stopped than white drivers and black drivers were pulled over twice as often as white motorists.

As a result of the discriminatory pattern that emerges from data for “consent searches” by CHP, the law enforcement agency ordered a six-month ban on the practice in 2001. Discovery in the case revealed that Latinos and blacks were twice as likely to be searched at a traffic stop. As part of the settlement reached earlier this year, the CHP agreed extend its ban on “consent searches” in the absence of criminal activity for at least 3 more years. The organization also agreed to create the position of CHP auditor to monitor traffic violation data for patterns of racial profiling. If Prop 54 passes, I guess they’re off the hook.

Prop 54 would make a lot of these numbers disappear. Like magic, 54 could erase any documented disparity – paper trail – between the blacks and whites and any other ethnic group in California. I’ve got an idea. How about a proposition to make poverty, disease and racism disappear. Then we won’t need the numbers.

Tiye Baldwin is a Daily Nexus staff writer.