Private companies (e.g. banks and insurance) are prohibited from collecting racial and ethnic data. Proposition 54 would extend that ban to the public sector, with certain exceptions. I support this proposition because I believe that the public sector is at least as likely to misuse such data as the private sector.

For years UC discriminated in favor of some ethnic groups and against others in awarding scholarships, fellowships, admission to highly selective programs, and the like. This discrimination was carried out on the basis of self-reported statistics on race and ethnicity. For example, certain fellowships were only available to members of select minority groups. I was once asked to prove that a candidate nominated by my department was “Chicano enough” to qualify for the fellowship. I leave it to you to decide how you would have responded to that request and what “Chicano enough” really meant.

As the last story makes clear, ethnic and racial classifications are very imprecise. Here is another story. About 14 years ago my wife and I discovered that our youngest daughter (then age 2) had a serious hearing loss. In order to evaluate our options for dealing with that problem, we took her to the California State School for the Deaf in Riverside for extensive testing. At one point in the process, the school psychologist asked me, “What is your daughter’s ethnicity?” I was surprised at the question and replied, “She was born in New Hampshire, so I suppose that makes her 100 percent American.” The psychologist patted my daughter on her Afro and said, “We can’t give an intelligence test to Black kids.” Whoa! My wife and I had expected some problems when we adopted mixed-race girls, but we sure as Hell did not expect to find them at the State School for the Deaf!

I could go on with many other examples, but here is the bottom line for me. People should not be treated by the state as “members of ethnic groups.” “Equal protection under the law” can’t be based on ethnicity or race. That notion should have faded away many years ago along with the phony notion of “separate but equal schools.” Proposition 54 will move us closer to that goal.