Skin color does not determine one’s political agenda

Elton Wong

George W. Bush has a bunch of new radio and television ads that started running in Iowa last Tuesday. One particular radio ad is in Spanish. According to Bush’s campaign, this radio spot signifies the first time that a presidential candidate has specifically targeted Iowa’s growing Hispanic population. Timed to coincide with the ads are a series of appearances by Bush in Iowa, appearances which often involve meetings with Hispanic leaders.

The ad says in Spanish: “Once again, the spotlight is on Iowa. And once again, the spotlight is on the Latino community. We’re voters too, and George W. Bush believes that all Iowans should help elect a president, that no one be left behind.”

The spot also says “in this presidential campaign, you will see a fresh start, the beginning for a new day for Latinos.” George Bush, a Spanish speaker himself, closes the ad with “This is George W. Bush. It’s a new day.”

In some ways, I think that this ad is a step forward. George W. Bush has had great support in Texas from the Hispanic community, and it seems only natural for him to chase after the Hispanic vote in Iowa as well. The ads promote the democratic process.

Then again, I must admit I get nervous whenever I hear a politician talking about any kind of “community,” especially when matters of race are involved.

Granted, it is now an inseparable procedure of the American political process to divide people into demographic groups and try to get their votes by pandering to their interests.

But to me, the “labor vote” or the “environmentalist” vote is a different thing from the “African American vote” or the “Hispanic vote.” Special-interest groups like environmentalists are defined by their interests, whereas racial/cultural groups have no such explicit ideological unity.

That is the problem. Politicians, advertisers and political pundits have taken to dividing people up by race and then assuming that because they share skin color or a language, they must all think alike and want the same thing. This is not good. When the race of a person is thought of as having relevance to that person’s ideas, I have a hard time seeing anything but racism.

For instance, the same Tuesday that Bush started running his ads, we had a speaker in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union named Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza is a conservative who has written books like “Ronald Regan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader.”

The title of the lecture he gave was “Racism Is Not the Problem,” and it was sponsored by, among others, the College Republicans.

In an interview that he gave to the Atlantic Monthly a while ago, D’Souza said, “The main responsibility for reforming the cultural deficiencies of the black underclass falls to the African-American community.” This is controversial stuff.

Ignoring the validity of this point and how well supported it is, it’s interesting to note that whenever the College Republicans bring a speaker to campus to promote conservative views on race, they never invite any white guys. What’s up? D’Souza is a dark-skinned man. Ward Connerly, who has come to ISU to speak against affirmative action, is black.

This is no coincidence. The College Republicans obviously feel that by inviting speakers of certain races, they protect themselves against accusations of racism.

You can’t really blame them for being pragmatic in this way, but the whole situation just damn silly.

Does the skin color of the speaker have anything to do with the validity of their point?

On the other side, it is also interesting to note that people like Ward Connerly and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (both African-American conservatives who oppose affirmative action) are pretty much accused of being “traitors” by liberals who support affirmative action.

Especially scathing is the criticism from liberal African-Americans. The argument seems to be “if you’re black, you have to support affirmative action.”

This is worse than racism, it is intellectual fascism. Do we really do ourselves a service when we assign people political or ethical positions on the basis of their skin color?

Do we really further the free exchange of ideas when we accuse Connerly or Thomas of “acting white?”

What exactly is race anyway? Biologists agree that there is no valid biological or genetic reason to divide people up into “races.”

Why are our current racial divisions based on skin color or physical appearance when they could just as easily be based on blood type or the ability to roll one’s tongue? All of these divisions are equally valid in that they are equally arbitrary.

Upon reflection, it is clear that “race” is nothing more than a cultural convention. Your race doesn’t tell you anything about what kind of person you are.

To say otherwise is genetic determinism and an arbitrary genetic determinism at that.

Likewise, your cultural heritage may help give you a sense of identity, but to restrict yourself to the culture you came from is to deny yourself infinite possibilities.

The thinking, creating individual is the basis for every other end there is. Any view or policy that is detrimental to this individual is harmful to us all.

Elton Wong is a junior in biology from Ames.