Friday, August 14, 2020 -
Print Edition

From the marriage license to the ball field

AP reports that three couples planning to get married in Virginia filed a federal lawsuit challenging a state requirement that they disclose their race on their marriage application.

They objected.

They said the requirement is a leftover from Jim Crow.

Virginia is one of only eight states that still have this requirement.

The plaintiffs are right. The race of marriage applicants is none of the state’s business. I assume that everyone who is not a white supremacist would agree.

If I am right, then I am also puzzled. If race is wrong for a marriage license, why is it right on the US census? Why is it right on the standard form at the doctor’s office and so many other standard forms? Why is race OK in political discourse? Why is race a requirement for political office or victimhood or college admission?

Race is irrelevant for marriage, so why is race relevant pretty much everywhere else?

When I am asked the race question on any form I leave it blank. Things have reached the point of absurdity. Look at the Virginia marriage application. It gives applicants the choice of 200 — that’s right, 200! — potential races. Such as: “American,” “Moor,” “Mulatto,” “Aryan.” Aryan? If any racial category was over and done with, I thought that was it. But apparently I am wrong. Did not the scourge of Nazism teach us that no one should care what race I am and what race you are?

I leave the question blank because I do not want to add an admittedly tiny data point to someone else’s racial calculations.

Needless to say, sociological data is useful for public policy, but I believe that the incessant hunt for racial data goes to extremes because it is sought in order to divide and polarize. Really, 200 races? How could the purpose there be other than divisive?

I also leave religion blank. That too appears on forms, though less often. Why should religion be a determinant of federal anything? What government policy needs religious, demographic data?

Certain races suffer disproportionately from certain diseases. But do not members of the affected races already know this? Is this a secret to either doctor or patient? Does not a doctor know the race of his or her patient, or at least know to ask, the minute the doctor sees the patient, if need be? But no, we just have to drive home these categories in every imaginable setting. That is socially divisive.

We stood before G-d on Yom Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Is it conceivable that Divine judgement was related in any way to our race? G-d wanted to know how we performed as people. Were we ethical? Were we observant? Were we kind? But . . . what race were we? That question did not come up.

The universal Jewish holiday is not Passover, not the holiday of freedom. Passover marks the beginning of G-d’s selection of the chosen people. Passover is particularistic. The universal Jewish framework is the High Holidays, as our prayers state: “May everyone become united to do Your will with a perfect heart.”

All of humanity.

It speaks for itself.

To be sure, race has been a critical determinant in human history. It has been the basis of mass murder, of slavery and of lesser forms of discrimination that nonetheless damn people to miserable lives. The transcendance of race as a legitimate rating system for humanity remains a widespread challenge. Racism, for whatever reason, has been extraordinarily difficult for large swaths of humanity to overcome. Why, then, let race in the back door? If we are trying to establish the universality of humanity, if we are trying to overcome discrimination on the basis of race, why keep asking for markers of race?

Why, for example, must Harvard know the race of its applicants — in order to discriminate against Asians? This seems to be the reason for the race question on Harvard applications, though a judge disagreed.

Look at the irrelevance of race in sports. Take baseball. Players are black and white and Latino. Players are from the US and Japan and the Caribbean and South America. Of the white players from the US, they are from the Northeast and the South and the West and . . . all over the country. Once the color barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947, has there ever been a racial quota for first basemen or pitchers or any other position? The same color-blind benefits pervade the NFL, the NBA and other professional sports.

Wouldn’t it be silly for a baseball scout to count up how many of his best prospects are of what race?

The same should be true throughout society, not just on marriage licenses, but on applications and forms of all sorts. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: Judge a person not by the color of his skin but the content of his character.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

Leave a Reply