ACA 5 Establishes a Racial Spoils System
The California Assembly voted last week to place on the November ballot an initiative to repeal Prop. 209, the 1996 constitutional amendment ending preferential treatment based on race and sex in public education, employment, and government contracting.
ACA 5 would end achievement through merit and turn the state into a system of racial spoils.
Consider that the majority of Californians are minorities: 39 percent Hispanics, 15 percent Asians, and 6.5 percent African Americans. Whites make up 37 percent of the population. In the University of California system, Asians account for 30 percent of the student population, followed by whites at 24 percent, Hispanics at 22 percent, and African Americans at 4 percent.
California’s diversity makes the state a great melting-pot rich in culture. But in a multi-ethnic society, the only neutral and fair standard is a merit system. Once race or gender becomes a factor, the system falls apart. Some Californians who may never have suffered discrimination get preferential treatment, while those who have never discriminated become themselves victims of discrimination.
Racial preferences in admission policies only stoke racial tensions. Nearly 280 hate crimes on campus were reported in 2017 to the FBI by select campus police departments, up from 257 in 2016, and 194 in 2015. The recent riots across the state make it imperative that we do everything we can to reduce racial hostility.
Assemblyman Evan Low, of Chinese descent, told SF Gate that tension has even spread to the Legislature, noting that no one from the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus signed on as a co-author of the repeal. Last Wednesday, Low called out the Legislative Black Caucus for not contacting him to ask for his vote or even to discuss the issue.
“What am I to do, without even having the decency of a conversation to discuss the difficulties of race?” Low asked his colleagues, “If we can’t even have these tough conversations, what do you think is going to happen to the electorate?” Low said that his office received more than 3,000 emails and phone calls opposing the repeal compared to just nine in support. Nevertheless, he went against his constituents and voted with the rest of the Democrats.
ACA 5’s claim that “since the passage of Proposition 209, diversity within public educational institutions has been stymied,” is just false. According to Wenyuan Wu, director of administration for the Asian American Coalition for Education, Latino admissions went from 15.4 percent in 1996 to 23 percent in 2010; Asian-American admissions rose from 28.8 percent to 37.47 percent, while black admissions rose slightly from 4 percent to 4.2 percent. Since 1999, underrepresented racial minorities’ enrollment at the UC system stood at 15 percent, while in 2019 this figure increased to 26 percent. “Minority admissions at UC exceeded those of 1996 both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of all admissions,” writes Wu.
Some also argue that the current system at UC favors those from “privileged” backgrounds. But two-thirds of UC Berkeley students receive financial aid. And 62 percent of freshman and 84 percent of transfer students consider themselves low-income, working class, or middle class. ACA 5 would close the doors for many deserving Asian and white students from non-privileged families.
While my sister was at UCLA law school, she knew two Filipino sisters, both had been pre-med undergraduate students and aspired to go to UCLA medical school. But UCLA turned them down after graduation. But these young women didn’t sulk. They didn’t ask their parents to call their representative or complain to a community group. Instead, they hunkered down to boost their credentials. One went to Georgetown to get a master’s degree, the other got her master’s at UC San Francisco. They then re-applied to UCLA medical school and finally got in. One is now an anesthesiologist and the other became the head of the pediatric department at a major Southern California hospital.
In a system of merit, the standards are clear, and the goal post is set. Fair minded people only ask for a level playing field and fair competition.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.