By Lawrence Siskind
In 1996, California voters amended their Constitution by enacting Proposition 209. It reads: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin … in education or public employment or contracting.”
At the time, there were dire warnings that, absent preferential treatment, minority enrollment at state universities would plummet. In fact, the opposite happened. There was an initial drop in minority enrollment, but white student enrollment also dropped — the result of a spike in students refusing to self-identify by race. By 1999, according to the state university system’s statistics, minority enrollment was back at pre-Prop. 209 levels, and has been growing since. There were 4,186 non-white freshmen in 1999. There were 13,666 in 2019.
Why did minority enrollment grow when measures to increase minority enrollment were outlawed? Among other reasons, more outstanding minority students chose California’s university system over other institutions once the stigma of racial preference was removed.
The success of minority students absent racial preferences has presented an unpalatable prospect for politicians and academicians who argue that America suffers from systemic racism, and government-mandated preferences are a necessary antidote. There have been numerous court challenges to Prop. 209, all unsuccessful.
The latest challenge is Proposition 16, a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 209. Prop 16 has large financial support from Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, Patty Quillin, wife of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, and the powerful California Teachers Association, among others. They have raised nearly $14 million, about 14 times as much as opponents.
And the well-funded campaign is closing the gap. An early October Public Policy Institute of California poll showed 47% opposed to Prop. 16, compared with 31% in support and 22% undecided. PPIC’s latest poll, released Wednesday, shows support growing to 37%, with 50% opposed and 12% undecided.
There are legitimate arguments on both sides of this debate. But as election day nears, Prop. 16’s supporters intend to utilize their massive financial to launch a shamefully mendacious media campaign.
Their opening salvo is an ad entitled “Yes on Prop. 16 — We Rise Together.” Every line of it is a lie.
First line: “Prop. 16 takes on discrimination.” Not true — Prop. 16 authorizes discrimination.
Second line: “Some women make as little as 42% of what a man makes. Voting Yes on Prop. 16 helps us fix that.” Another falsehood. Prop. 16 cannot “fix” private sector pay scales, and if this very dubious 42% figure comes from government pay scales, then the Democrats who control the entire state government would be entirely to blame.
Last line: “Prop. 16 provides equal opportunities, leveling the playing field for all of us.” The truth is the exact reverse. Prop. 16’s sole goal is to render opportunities unequal by affecting different playing field levels on the basis of race and gender. Its supporters believe that unequal opportunities constitute the only way to achieve equal results.
What transforms the ad from being deceptive to extraordinarily repulsive is a scene depicting a torchlight parade of apparent neo-Nazis. The ad suggests — no, it comes right out and affirms — that they oppose Prop 16. In other words, if you oppose preferences and believe in equal opportunity, you are a neo-Nazi.
In fact, Prop. 16’s opposition comes largely from victims of racialist theories. California was never a slave state, but it did pass and enforce legislation discriminating against its Asian minority. In the late 19th century, nativists in San Francisco spread rumors of Chinese “uncleanliness,” leading to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first American statute to ban immigration solely based on race. In 1942, Executive Order 9066, issued at the urging of California Governor Earl Warren, incarcerated Americans of Japanese descent.
Given their history of victimization from government discrimination, it’s not surprising that Asian Americans strongly oppose Prop. 16. Over a dozen Asian American organizations have coalesced to oppose it – including Students for Fair Admissions, which sued Harvard for its blatantly unequal treatment of Asian American applicants.
The effort by Prop. 16’s sponsors to equate their opponents with neo-Nazis is worse than mendacious. It is despicable.