Ever heard of La Raza? Probably not, but you and other taxpayers are funding it.
We shouldn’t be. Along with public broadcasters, environmental organizations, and other entities that use taxpayer money to keep insider networks in power, ethnic identity groups should be taken off public support. These movements have for decades lived off the government only to keep enlarging it, maintaining power in the hands of a self-dealing bureaucratic elite increasingly unaccountable and disconnected from outside society.
La Raza—recently renamed UnidosUS—is a case in point. Set up in 1968 with a grant from the Ford Foundation (which also helped create other movements), La Raza has always been more boardroom than barrio. It depends for its survival not on grassroots, but on government contracts and kickbacks, and grants from foundations and the corporations it can shake down.
This corporate and government coziness doesn’t mean that La Raza hasn’t been a divisive force in society. On the contrary, it’s been so from the beginning, and the balkanization it has caused has benefited elites.
No less a liberal lion than U.S. Representative Henry Gonzalez of Texas took to the floor of the House on April 22, 1969, to decry the Ford Foundation’s creation of “a very grave problem” in his district. “I cannot accept the belief that racism in reverse is the answer for racism and discrimination,” he said. It is worth quoting Gonzalez at some length, as the dysfunctions he identified remained a fixture of the group:
As deeply as I must respect the intentions of the foundation, I must at the same time say that where it aimed to produce unity, it has so far created disunity. The Ford Foundation believed that the greatest need of this particular minority group [Mexican Americans] was to have some kind of effective national organization…. This good desire may have rested on a false assumption; namely that such a disparate group could, any more than our black brothers or our white ‘Anglo’ brothers, be brought under one large tent.
La Raza was “invented for the purpose of receiving the grant,” said Gonzalez, and in its first year of existence had “not given any assistance that I know of to bring anybody together,” existing only to “promote the rather odd and I might say generally unaccepted and unpopular views of its directors.”
And that’s just it. Political scientist Peter Skerry describes groups such as La Raza as participants in a game called “elite network politics.” Even though these networks have “weak community ties,” the groups involved win policy brawls by participating in “a process of specialization and professionalization by which politics become more and more an insiders’ game…a politics increasingly turned in upon itself and insulated from the surrounding social flux.”
In La Raza’s case, that meant a turnstile relationship with the Obama Administration that the president himself boasted about. For example, Cecilia Munoz, a top La Raza lobbyist, became White House Domestic Policy Council. Government subsidies of La Raza went from $4.1 million to $11 million a year after she joined the Administration.
Nearly a half-century after Gonzalez spoke, La Raza was still engaging in “a scheme to funnel money to politically favored special interest groups,” as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte put it in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. Goodlatte was referring to an Obama Administration practice of settling Department of Justice lawsuits by “asking” corporate defendants to make large donations to groups such as La Raza.
Meanwhile, studies show that minorities want to join the mainstream. A leaked memo from ten years ago made clear how strongly La Raza opposes this assimilation, for one simple reason: Assimilation is bad for business.
When people join the mainstream and feel they are part and parcel of the nation, they no longer view themselves as victims, and thus are no longer in need of groups such as La Raza. The competition between ethnic groups that these organizations want to perpetuate helps the increasingly cosmopolitan elites in obvious ways. Immigrants must maintain their foreignness lest they join forces with native blue-collar workers to check the upper classes. Diversity, says political commentator Michael Lind, is beloved by the elites of North America and Europe because it “reduces the likelihood that workers of different ethnicities will unite in a common front against economic elites.”
Some liberals are starting to call out this use of identity politics. The Indian-born British writer Kenan Malik, a visiting fellow at the University of Surrey, put it this way in a recent essay:
In practice, contemporary identity politics does little to challenge the roots of oppression. What it does do is empower certain people within those putative identities to police the borders of ‘their’ communities or peoples by establishing themselves as gatekeepers. It has allowed self-nominated authentic voices or community leaders to consolidate and protect their power. As solidarity has become redefined in terms of ethnicity or culture, so those who demand to be the voices of those ethnicities or cultures are afforded new privileges.
Such slouching toward ethnocracy can pose a threat to the nation-state whose pluralistic people are united through patriotic fellow-feeling. The aftermath of the recent hurricanes offers, on the other hand, an alternative view of what Americans accomplish when they look past race, ethnicity, or social class and pitch in as fellow citizens in a common cause.
Ethnic identity groups are not alone in empowering elites. NPR, PBS, and the other public broadcasters report the news from the perspective of a bien-pensant coalition that includes the bureaucracy, the academy, the entertainment industry, and the rest of the bi-coastal urban elite. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets about half a billion dollars a year from taxpayers to bring you their viewpoint.
One does not need to be a populist to think there is a problem in asking taxpayers to fund efforts that fuel insider networks—at the expense of said taxpayers. Let the fire sale begin.
This piece originally appeared in The American Interest