What does measuring black women's breast-cancer rates and Latino children's reading scores have to do with the chaotic California recall election? A lot, because of an initiative called Proposition 54, which will also appear on the crowded Oct. 7 ballot. The so-called Racial Privacy Initiative would prevent state and local governments from collecting data on Californians' race or ethnicity. The measure's author, affirmative-action foe and University of California regent Ward Connerly, calls it an effort to move the nation's most diverse state "beyond race--to stop living on the hyphen."
Many have speculated on how Prop 54's presence on the ballot could affect the recall race. (Governor Gray Davis opposes it; Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't taken a stand.) But it is fomenting a fierce debate in its own right. A coalition of 400 groups, including the California Medical Association, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union, says the measure will "endanger the health of every Californian." Under Prop 54, birth and death certificates could not list race or ethnicity, making it more difficult for public-health officials to study which groups suffer most from diseases like cancer and diabetes. Schools and universities couldn't collect racial data unless required by the Federal Government. And state agencies wouldn't be able to track the race of their employees to measure possible discrimination. A July poll showed half of California voters favor the initiative, with 29% opposing it and the rest undecided. Connerly hopes that if the measure is approved, it will spur a nationwide backlash against "shuffling people into little boxes and tables." --By Margot Roosevelt