Neutrality isn’t justice, silence = death

Just when we thought we were done with our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site, we get pulled back in.

Attempts to deny equality of opportunity by acknowledging racism do not die when an Order is rescinded. One proof is that the Iowa state legislature is working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. Here’s a report from Inside Higher Ed:

With very similar language to the Trump order, the Iowa bills prohibit race and sex “stereotyping” and “divisive concepts” in diversity training. Such ideas are that one race or sex is “inherently superior” to another, that the state of Iowa is “fundamentally” racist or sexist, and that a person, by virtue of race or sex, is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Other prohibited concepts: that a person, based on race or sex, “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” and that anyone should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” for similar reasons. Meritocracy and “traits such as a hard work ethic” cannot be described as racist or sexist under the bill.

The bills apply to public colleges’ and universities’ staff or student training, led by employees or contractors. Institutions may continue training that fosters a “respectful” workplace or learning environment for all.

You can revisit our series on the Trump order, where we explain how this language bars people from acknowledging racism by saying that doing so is racist–that calling out white racism against black people is, itself, racist because it identifies white people as “fundamentally” racist. It also firmly locates all white racism “in the past”, safely removing white people today from any association with it.

One quote in particular from the story on Iowa sticks with us:

Representative Sandy Salmon, a Republican, argued that there still “needs to be a paragraph in there about requiring a public institution of higher education to attempt to remain neutral on current public policy controversies.”

Neutrality. We understand the disequilibrium our nation is going through as it attempts its boldest reckoning with racism since the 1950s and 60s. We know how painful it is to everyone to disturb the equilibrium of an entire nation, to call a halt to business as usual, including all the coping mechanisms people have relied on for centuries to deal with and survive racism and sexism. That coping state is identified as neutrality, and it can seem like neutrality, a grey area between violence and safety, but it isn’t neutral. It’s charged with fear and hate. It’s the medium in which cells of injustice grow and multiply.

So there is nothing noble or helpful about calling for neutrality on “controversies” that are tearing our nation apart, and that we are finally stopping all the machinery to address and redress. It doesn’t “calm things down”. It only perpetuates the medium for injustice by refusing to call it out and destroy it.

First they force universities to go along, then K-12 schools, then businesses, then everything else. Neutrality isn’t justice, in Iowa or anywhere else. All of us have to stick with the exhaustingly difficulty work of derailing what is corrupt in our society and nation, and then, when all injustice is indeed safely “in the past,” we can figure out how to keep it that way.

There was a slogan back in the 90s amongst gay Americans fighting the unwillingness of the U.S. government–and most of society–to do anything to stop the AIDS epidemic.

Silence=Death was a quick, efficient way to get the message across that not talking about AIDS, or “gays”, was a way to guarantee that the death rate just kept rising. Gay Americans who had adopted the coping mechanism of silence about their sexuality, concealing it in some way, to some extent, in order to survive had to be mobilized for public protest, public political action. It was not easy. But momentum grew with the death rate, and heroic gay Americans put their lives on the line to stand up and demand equal medical treatment and attention. It was dangerous, it was hard, it put all of American society into disequilibrium as “mainstream” America was forced to acknowledge gay people as human beings with equal rights (and as people–regular people who had jobs and pets and went on vacation and hated broccoli, etc.).

Neutrality in that situation was not the answer. It’s never the answer when justice is at stake. We all need to revive this slogan for today. Find a new shape to replace the pink triangle that represented homosexuality and get those t-shirts and buttons out there on every American who knows that “neutrality and silence for all” is not our national slogan.

Truth v. Myth: Biden Order defines racism as racist! (and anti-racism as anti-racist)

Hello and welcome to part 2 of our series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site. We left off in part 1 looking at the end of Section 1 and its framing of equality of opportunity in positive economic terms.

“Sec. 2 Definitions” establishes the same for “equity” and “underserved communities”:

Sec. 2.  Definitions.  For purposes of this order:  (a)  The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.

(b)  The term “underserved communities” refers to populations sharing a particular characteristic, as well as geographic communities, that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as exemplified by the list in the preceding definition of “equity.”

We know that this Order is specifically addressing racial inequity, so we will not complain that being female is omitted here from categories of Americans who have been denied equality of opportunity. It’s good to have an Order specifically focused on race. But we do expect the Administration can do two things at once and also address sexual discrimination and sexism in America as well, and as soon as possible.

The main difference here between the Biden Order and the Trump Order is that the Trump version had 9 separate definitions of the term “divisive concepts”, all of which stated that anti-racism and anti-sexism training were, in themselves, divisive concepts based on lies and, of course, anti-white racism. So we’re on better footing already here with the Biden Order, as it is short and common-sensical and acknowledges reality.

Sec. 3 Role of the Domestic Policy Council states that this DPC will “coordinate efforts to embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the Federal government. This will include efforts to remove systemic barriers to and provide equal access to opportunities and benefits, identify communities the Federal Government has underserved, and develop policies designed to advance equity for those communities.” Again, a 180 from the Trump Order which focused on prosecuting government departments that continued diversity training that attempted to address “divisive concepts.”

Sec. 4.  Identifying Methods to Assess Equity says that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will work with federal agencies to “[assess] whether agency policies and actions create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals. The study should aim to identify the best methods, consistent with applicable law, to assist agencies in assessing equity with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. … Within 6 months of the date of this order, the Director of OMB shall deliver a report to the President describing the best practices identified by the study and, as appropriate, recommending approaches to expand use of those methods across the Federal Government.”

So far so good; we can say that by 2021 it’s a little late to say you’ll begin to assess “whether” there are barriers to equity and then “recommend approaches” to dismantling them… but if this really happens by August, we’ll be happy to wait one last time.

Next time: defining obstacles to equity

Truth v. Myth: Trump executive order on diversity training “merits” criticism

Hello and welcome to part 3 of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. You can find the official White House version of this executive order here. Here we

The Order picks up from where it left off–claiming that acknowledging the existence of racism is racist (see part 2)–by describing this acknowledgement as coercion:

Executive departments and agencies (agencies), our Uniformed Services, Federal contractors, and Federal grant recipients should, of course, continue to foster environments devoid of hostility grounded in race, sex, and other federally protected characteristics. Training employees to create an inclusive workplace is appropriate and beneficial. The Federal Government is, and must always be, committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals before the law.

But training like that discussed above perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint. Such ideas may be fashionable in the academy, but they have no place in programs and activities supported by Federal taxpayer dollars. Research also suggests that blame-focused diversity training reinforces biases and decreases opportunities for minorities.

–We can train people to create an inclusive workplace basic on fair and equal treatment of all individual before the law, but we cannot define any group as failing to be inclusive, fair and equal. We must leave that blank. It is racist to openly acknowledge that in the United States, the racism that is sanctioned by generations of institutional discrimination, including laws and mores that approve white racism against black people, Asian people, Latinx people, Native American people, or any other race group.

This would be akin to offering training to prevent homophobic discrimination that refused to say that heterosexual people are the ones allowed, even encouraged, to practice this discrimination, and therefore the source of the problem. We should, apparently, leave the door open to the idea that gay people discriminating against straight people is the longstanding problem.

And isn’t diversity training all about ensuring conformity of action, if not viewpoint? You may not reach everyone who is prejudiced, but you have to ensure that they walk out of the room knowing that prejudice will be punished. And you do hope that you will change minds eventually. Isn’t the goal of the U.S. Constitution to use subtle and not-so-subtle coercive pressure to get millions of people to commit to being one nation, indivisible? Coercive pressure can be exerted for good or for evil. We use coercive pressure to teach children not to touch the hot stove.

Another dog-whistle for conservatives: linking actual diversity training that names names to colleges and universities (“the academy”). Conservatives believe that higher ed is exclusively neo-liberal, so attaching real diversity training to them is effective for that audience.

Finally, there is research that finds that diversity training can be unfortunately counter-productive in that people who complete it feel that they are now racism-proof because of their new knowledge, and therefore anything they do can never be racist, and they never have to think about it again. This does not mean that we cancel diversity training, but that we improve it to address this conundrum.

Our Federal civil service system is based on merit principles. These principles, codified at 5 U.S.C. 2301, call for all employees to “receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to” race or sex “and with proper regard for their . . . constitutional rights.” Instructing Federal employees that treating individuals on the basis of individual merit is racist or sexist directly undermines our Merit System Principles and impairs the efficiency of the Federal service. Similarly, our Uniformed Services should not teach our heroic men and women in uniform the lie that the country for which they are willing to die is fundamentally racist. Such teachings could directly threaten the cohesion and effectiveness of our Uniformed Services.

–We must begin by asking, what about this Administration’s determined and open effort over the past four years to directly threaten every expression of and mechanism to maintain this nation’s democracy?

But aside from that, here we find once more the argument that the merit system is actually a level playing field. It is not. As we said in Part 2, “That’s why pushing “color blindness” and “meritocracy” are indeed tools of racism: they ask people to assume a level playing field that does not exist. Meritocracy means ‘we all start with the same opportunities, and those who take advantage of them and work hard will succeed.’ But we don’t all start with the same opportunities, the same equality of opportunity, as the Founders put it, and therefore meritocracy is not truly possible.”

And that’s why we must tell people that, unless we are working hard and deliberately and honestly to address racism and sexism, treating individuals on the basis of individual merit really is racist or sexist, because we take a system that ensures the success of whites and men and then say “Well, I guess blacks and women don’t succeed because they just aren’t as talented as white men. They had a fair chance, and they failed.”

Such activities also promote division and inefficiency when carried out by Federal contractors. The Federal Government has long prohibited Federal contractors from engaging in race or sex discrimination and required contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that such discrimination does not occur. The participation of contractors’ employees in training that promotes race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating similarly undermines efficiency in Federal contracting. Such requirements promote divisiveness in the workplace and distract from the pursuit of excellence and collaborative achievements in public administration.

–Yes, there are rules on the books to prevent federal contracts from being granted to contractors that don’t have a fair and equitable workforce or policies. But many studies over many years show that those rules are regularly flouted. Even if they weren’t, and every federal contractor was fully anti-racist and anti-sexist, wouldn’t that be the likely result of decades of diversity training, which is now illegal? How can federal contractors continue that imagined stellar record if they can no longer conduct honest diversity training?

We assume that most people reading this blog–like most people in the world–work in a company or organization. All of these companies experience divisiveness in the workplace. Is the main or only source of this divisiveness diversity training? Probably not. We’d even say definitely not. If we had to make a hypothesis about which causes more divisiveness in the workplace–prejudice or diversity training–we’d say it’s the former.

Therefore, it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes. In addition, Federal contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees.

–Here the perverse equation is made baldly clear: honest diversity training that identifies white racism and male sexism is “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating”. Therefore, there is no more federal funding for any diversity training that identifies white racism or male sexism. Again, while we could see a bad-intentioned person arguing that white people are not the only racists (thus ignoring the specific U.S. context of institutional racism that promotes white people over others), it’s hard to see how they would argue that women are as guilty of sexism as men. Or not; we suppose any group as dedicated to ignoring history and reality as this administration could do it.

Next time: “divisive concepts”…

Truth v Myth: Trump Executive Order defines fighting racism as racist

Welcome to part 2 of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. You can find the official White House version of this executive order here. Today, we move on to the Order’s misrepresentation of anti-racism as a “destructive ideology.”

This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world. Although presented as new and revolutionary, they resurrect the discredited notions of the nineteenth century’s apologists for slavery who, like President Lincoln’s rival Stephen A. Douglas, maintained that our government “was made on the white basis” “by white men, for the benefit of white men.” Our Founding documents rejected these racialized views of America, which were soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War. Yet they are now being repackaged and sold as cutting-edge insights. They are designed to divide us and to prevent us from uniting as one people in pursuit of one common destiny for our great country.

–The duplicity here makes one want to cry out. Here is the pretzel: acknowledging racism at work in America today is actually racist. To bring up race is, somehow, to have a “racialized view” of America, and, beyond that, to bring up racism is to be an apologist for slavery.

Where to begin? Well, perhaps with the common knowledge that fighting racism and working for civil rights is hardly represented as new, revolutionary, or cutting-edge. We’ve been doing this work in this country since 1787, at least, and the association of “civil rights” with “fighting racism against black Americans” has been very much a part of our life as a nation since 1865. Perhaps the author(s) of this order remember the NAACP, SNCC, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm, John Lewis, the NACW, and, greatest of them all, Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Maybe they can recall the desegregation of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. The March on Washington. Brown v. Board of Education. The Great Society. All of these movements, organizations, events, and people of the past 160 years that we all read about at every grade level in our textbooks.

Fighting racism and working for civil rights is also not racist. To claim that fighting racism forces people to think about race, and only race, and therefore is racist, can only be the product of a deep stupidity or a deep evil. It’s very hard to say which would be worse.

Unfortunately, this malign ideology is now migrating from the fringes of American society and threatens to infect core institutions of our country. Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors. For example, the Department of the Treasury recently held a seminar that promoted arguments that “virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism,” and that instructed small group leaders to encourage employees to avoid “narratives” that Americans should “be more color-blind” or “let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.”

–This is more of the same idea that acknowledging race and racism is racist. We should all be allowed to be “color-blind”. This phrase, as used in this Order, represents a false assumption, which is that America, or at least most Americans, are not racist and do not ever made judgments about people based on their race. Therefore, being told to think about race is ruining this paradise by introducing race-based thinking, and therefore, racism.

It’s hard to imagine that many Americans would claim that they are “color-blind.” They might say they themselves are not racist, or that they try not to be. But they wouldn’t claim that they never think about race unless forced to do so by a workplace diversity training. In reality, all people–whatever their race–have racist thoughts and feelings. Most of them know that, and work to fight that human tendency. Some of them know that and don’t care, and some of them know that and deny it. While one might find fault with a diversity training program that singles out white people as racist, when we know that it’s a part of human nature the world over, we are talking about the U.S., where centuries of institutional racism have worked to promote the interests and well-being of white Americans at the expense of black, Latinx, Asian, and Native Americans. So in a U.S. diversity training, the focus will indeed be on how white people can renounce the privileges racism offers them. If white Americans don’t do that, they cannot “let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.”

Training materials from Argonne National Laboratories, a Federal entity, stated that racism “is interwoven into every fabric of America” and described statements like “color blindness” and the “meritocracy” as “actions of bias.”

–Again, the first statement is very familiar to Americans. We spent the last 70 years learning again and again how racism distorts housing, employment, incarceration, health care, and education. You either oppose or support this, but you can’t prove a case for denying it. That’s why pushing “color blindness” and “meritocracy” are indeed tools of racism: they ask people to assume a level playing field that does not exist. Meritocracy means “we all start with the same opportunities, and those who take advantage of them and work hard will succeed.” But we don’t all start with the same opportunities, the same equality of opportunity, as the Founders put it, and therefore meritocracy is not truly possible.

Materials from Sandia National Laboratories, also a Federal entity, for non-minority males stated that an emphasis on “rationality over emotionality” was a characteristic of “white male[s],” and asked those present to “acknowledge” their “privilege” to each other.

–Here the author(s) play into people’s willingness to roll their eyes at “political correctness”. They pull very small quotes from some larger document to prove that Sandia is denigrating white men, representing them in a negative way and, therefore, engaging in what white racists traditionally call “reverse discrimination.” See? they say; Sandia is encouraging racism against white men! Shouldn’t every individual be judged on their actions, not their race? This is pretty unforgivably deceitful. If one group have worked to institutionalize racism, then yes, they participate in racism and benefit from it, even if they’re not fully aware of the full extent of that participation and benefit. It become so normalized that it’s just the fabric of life. Sexism works the same way. Making people aware of the benefit, or privilege, they experience is a first step in teaching the basic lesson that discrimination must be actively opposed, and that can’t happen until it is personally acknowledged. The work doesn’t stop there. Acknowledging one’s own participation in discrimination is just the first step to fighting it, and being part of the solution.

A Smithsonian Institution museum graphic recently claimed that concepts like “[o]bjective, rational linear thinking,” “[h]ard work” being “the key to success,” the “nuclear family,” and belief in a single god are not values that unite Americans of all races but are instead “aspects and assumptions of whiteness.” The museum also stated that “[f]acing your whiteness is hard and can result in feelings of guilt, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, or fear.”

–One of the concepts we learn as we move into adulthood is that words can have many meanings. We learn about codes, and code-switching. We find through personal experience that potentially explosive messages cannot be bluntly stated, but have to be filtered. It’s what we call a “dog whistle” – most people hear nothing, but those who are in the know hear the message.

Well-known examples include “the right kind of people” and “our kind of people”. In the U.S., the words and phrases “patriot,” “real Americans,” “honest, hardworking Americans,” and “middle-class” have been turned into dog-whistles for racism since the 1970s, when the conservative backlash against the civil rights movement and gains of the 1950s and 60s began, and were fully gelled by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. All of these have become code expressions for “white”, and it was a horribly effective mis-use of meritocracy: start with the false assumption that everyone had the same starting point and resources, and then when racism ensures that people who aren’t white don’t succeed, the only way to explain it is by blaming the non-white people for being lazy, dishonest, and treacherous. If only white Americans succeed, it must be because only whites are hard-working, honest, and patriotic.

And so when the Order complains that the Smithsonian claimed that the phrases “[h]ard work” being “the key to success,” the “nuclear family,” and belief in a single god are not values that unite Americans of all races but are instead “aspects and assumptions of whiteness,” it is pretending that these have not become thoroughly encoded dog-whistles.

We would criticize the Smithsonian–if it is being quoted correctly–for saying that only white people value the nuclear family. Black American families in particular have been targeted for destruction by policies that keep black Americans poor, physically unhealthy, exposed to drug use, and more likely to be sent to prison, all of which prevent nuclear families from forming and/or persisting.

All of this is contrary to the fundamental premises underpinning our Republic: that all individuals are created equal and should be allowed an equal opportunity under the law to pursue happiness and prosper based on individual merit.

–The horrible irony of this statement is clear: acknowledging and fighting the racism that prevents equal opportunity under the law is racist. All anti-racism is anti-American and is itself what is preventing equality for all Americans. And, before we close, let’s all remember that the Declaration of Independence that the Order purports to quote here by using the phrase “pursue happiness” says NOTHING about individual merit:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

How does America achieve happiness for all? Is it through assuming a meritocracy? No: Americans achieve this by forming a government that supports happiness for all (“these ends”). And if that government “becomes destructive of these ends,” we the People must alter or abolish it to create a new government built on “such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”.

That’s how we create and maintain and safeguard happiness in this country. Through the hard work of creating a system of government that does not allow systemic, institutionalized discrimination, and through the hard work of monitoring that government and correcting it if it goes wrong. The Founders knew how hard it would be to keep the government fair and to keep it dedicated to preserving our natural rights. They did not recommend or describe a fantasy about everyone having all the resources and opportunities they needed, like magic, and just taking advantage of them, easy as pie. It’s about rights, not magic.

Next time: define merit

Posting bail is un-American

One of the great founding principles of the United States is the right of equal opportunity. This means that no one is born with political advantages; for example, in a monarchic society, someone who is born into the nobility has political rights and protections from the law that “commoners” don’t have. Therefore, people outside the nobility do not have equal opportunity to succeed in their society.

In the U.S., equal opportunity has been popularly enshrined in the notion of every American having the chance to live the “American dream”: everyone has equal opportunity to work, vote, succeed, own a home, go to school, and more. Ideally, no American is barred from these things because of their social class, income, color, or anything else.

We of course fight a constant good fight to make sure this is true in America. There are always some people who want to set up barriers to equal opportunity. But we can never let this happen, for, as Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting America in the 1830s, later wrote in Democracy in America, equality of opportunity is the thing that truly sets America apart, the jewel of our democracy.

de Tocqueville was bothered, therefore, by one commonplace in the American system that he felt was a slap in the face to equality of opportunity. Was it slavery? Unequal wealth? City slums? No. While he saw those things were aberrations in our democracy, one thing he chose to comment on in particular was posting bail.

This seems like a very small thing. If you’re arrested, you can post bail to stay out of jail until your trial. That seems fair.

But it’s not fair, because it gives those who have money an advantage over those who don’t. If you’re not poor you can post bail; if you’re poor, you can’t. So poor people go to jail, while others don’t.

And if you are accused of a horrendous crime, like murder or child sexual assault, you have to post a much larger bail, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This only guarantees that wealthy people will not be imprisoned while awaiting trial no matter what they are accused of.

Currently, this inequality of opportunity has come up in the context of immigration. If you are accused of being an illegal immigrant, you are most likely poor. Therefore, you can never post bail when you are arrested. And so you sit in jail until you are deported. Or, worse, you don’t even sit in jail, but are immediately put on a bus or a plane back to your native country.

This means your loved ones have no idea where you are. If you are never in a police station, you can’t make a phone call home to tell them. At least if you’re sitting in jail, your family knows what has happened. But illegal immigrants cannot post bail, and legal authorities know this, and so the whole process is skipped.

Even if an illegal immigrant is given a chance to post bail, everyone knows s/he will not be able to pay. Therefore, there is no real chance to protect oneself from immediate repatriation, no chance of having a trial.

One might argue that since illegal immigrants are not U.S. citizens, they cannot complain about not receiving due process. And one might feel that the problems of illegal immigrants are worlds away; U.S. citizens will never face this problem.

But you might. No one is guaranteed that they will never be arrested. Anything can happen. And if it does, will your wealth qualify you for justice, or will you sit in jail?

Proving citizenship proves difficult

Some states are ratcheting up the requirements for getting a driver’s license–and I mean way up.

In Massachusetts right now, you must present four distinct pieces of ID to prove your identity. What are they? The web site for the Commonwealth Registry of Motor Vehicles actually does not say. You have to take your chances. Since most people’s main form of ID is a driver’s license, those without one must bring in a passport, birth certificate, bank statement, social security card, report card, bank signature guaranty… I suppose the list goes on. I can’t think of anything else.

Ironically, most people seeking their first driver’s license are teenagers who most likely do not have a passport, bank statement, or social security card. And few people of any age have a copy of their birth certificate handy (and it’s not quick or easy or cheap to get one).

All this to prove your identity as a state resident? Of course not. It is really to prove U.S. citizenship, and part of our extremely inefficient war on terror.

The problem with this sudden expansion of requirements for getting a license is that it is really part of the eroding our of founding principle of equality of opportunity. This is the right of all Americans to have an equal opportunity to succeed, and equal access to necessary tools for success. One traditional example of this is that in the U.S. there is no aristocracy, no group that is born with access to power that no one else has. 

In a climate of fear about terrorist attack, it is easy to start setting up barriers to equality of opportunity. Suddenly you need difficult-to-obtain identification to get a driver’s license. No one ever explains why, or tells you how to access this information, or even, in the case of the Massachusetts RMV, what this identification is. You are just meant to accept it.

Suddenly you will also need proof of citizenship to vote. Suddenly you have to undergo a special process not to appear on a potential flight risk/terrorist list kept by the government at airports.

When rules like this are made without notice, explanation, or justification, they destroy equality of opportunity. They intimidate many people into giving up what they were trying to get (a driver’s license) or to do (vote), and no one protests because they either don’t know about the new rules or they are afraid of how they will look if they protest.

Look into your state’s requirements for a driver’s license. Seem familiar? Or has there been a change?