52 Race and Racial Classifications
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52 Race and Racial Classifications LUTHER WRIGHT, JR. In 1983, Susie Phipps' five-year, $49,000 legal battle to have her birth certificate's "erroneous" racial classification changed ended with the court denying her petition .1 Six years later, Mary Walker's fight to have her racial classification changed on her birth certificate ended with the court granting the change she sought.2 Why did these two cases, seemingly very similar, have totally opposite outcomes? First, Susie Phipps sought to have her racial classification changed from "black" to "white," while Mary Walker sought a change from "white" to "black."3 Second, Susie Phipps' home state, louisiana, was the only one with a statute legally defining the "black" racial classification. Mary Walker's claim, brought in Colorado, was not subject to any statutory definition. Neither woman challenged the"erroneous" classifications on their birth certificates until both faced some tangible loss because of their racial classifications: jobs and social status.4 Even though the louisiana statute was highly biased toward white purity, it was the last rule in the modern era with some notion of a bright-line definition. However, all states still require racial data at birth for statistical purposes such as monitoring population migration , disease, and fertility among racial groups. These statutory requirements mandate that a racial classification be selected at the time of birth. No standards oversee this classification procedure. Instead, parents choose the race of their children based on how they classify themselves. Since birth certificates and other state documents are often used as proof of race, the current standard for racial classification seems to be self-definition. The Modern Era While American society may like to believe that limitations and disabilities based on race no longer exist, the reality is otherwise. Studies reveal that criminals who perpetrate crimes against white victims are frequently punished more severely than those who victimize blacks, suggesting that the lives and rights of white victims are valued more highly than the lives of victims of other races.s Black orphans are far less likely to be adopted than whites. Minorities are discriminated against in jury 'Selection, often depriving minority group members of one of their most significant constitutional rights. Blacks are still routinely discriminated against in obtaining mortgage loans, and in other significant economic situations such as the purchase of an automobile.6 In Florida, a white woman was awarded From "WHO'S BLACK, WHO'S WHITE, AND WHO CARES: RECONCEPTUALIZING THE UNITED STATES'S DEFINITION OF RACE AND RACIAL CLASSIFICATIONS," 48 YAND L. REV. 513 (1995). Originally published in the Vanderbilt Law Review . Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Race and Racial Classifications 321 full worker's compensation disability for her phobia of black men after she was attacked by someone she believed to be black.? This century's efforts to achieve voting rights and school desegregation illustrate the continued presence of racial limitations in modern society. Ian Haney Lopez asserts that race dominates our personal lives because it manifests itself in our speech, dance, neighbors, and friends, and in our ways of talking, walking, eating , and dreaming, He writes that race determines our economic prospects, screening and selecting us for manual jobs and professional careers, red-lining financing for real estate, and green-lining access to insurance. Race permeates politics by altering electoral boundaries , shaping the disbursement of local, state, and federal funds, fueling the creation and collapse of political alliances, and affecting efforts of law enforcement. In short, race permeates every aspect of our lives.s At the federal, state, and local levels, both intentional and benign measures have made race legally significant in the routine activities of everyday life. Minority communities, many established due to discrimination, are often deprived of the basic protections of zoning ordinances . Residents so deprived fear for the safety, quality, and integrity of their communities due to toxic hazards, vile odors, traffic congestion, and blighting appearance. Communities that are nearly one hundred percent black are often deprived of adequate street paving, sanitary sewers, surface water drainage, street lighting, water mains, and fire hydrants. These examples of race-conscious zoning and residential services demonstrate how racial classifications can plague entire urban areas and seriously impair the quality of life in minority areas. Unfortunately, sometimes even benevolent programs designed to help improve the blighted communities only exacerbate race-conscious deprivation. A fourteen-month investigation during the mid-1980s found that in non-integrated federal rent-subsidy housing , the residential services and privileges were far better than those...


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