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Root Out Disparities in California By Voting Yes on Proposition 16

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Created: 06 October, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
5 min read

This is an independent opinion. Have one of your own? Email it to hoa@ivn.us

In this unprecedented year, a global pandemic, deep recession and nationwide demonstrations have all reinforced the persistent, systemic racial inequities that continue to afflict our society. These unusually challenging times have accentuated significant racial disparities in economics, health care, housing, education and police violence. Numerous previously-uninvolved community members have begun to acknowledge a responsibility to take aggressive steps to remedy these disparities. At the same time, stubborn gender-linked inequalities, including wage imbalances that are particularly pronounced for women of color, have exacerbated the harms seen this year for women.

Yet, California, despite its well-deserved and hard-fought reputation as a national progressive leader in addressing societal inequity, is hamstrung in its ability to address the challenges laid bare by the calamities of 2020. A near-quarter-century old ballot initiative — enacted at the urging of then-Gov. Pete Wilson and others admittedly frightened by the growth of communities of color and of the Latino community in particular — prevents all government bodies in California from even considering some logical and obvious steps to begin to address the disparities that dominate our headlines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, like its predecessor — the notorious anti-immigrant Proposition 187 of 1994 — Proposition 209 was enacted in 1996 despite super-majorities in opposition among Black, Latino and Asian American voters, and even though a majority of all women voters cast a “No” vote, according to exit polls

The pernicious effects of Proposition 209 over 24 years on California’s economy and societal development are legion, perhaps never more apparent than in this challenging year. For example, if any police department or sheriff’s office in California were to decide to recruit more Black police officers and provide assistance to those recruited candidates in being hired — a small, but logical, step to begin to address righteous community indignation about police relations with communities of color — it could not actually take that step. Because of Proposition 209. Police departments outside of California could readily engage in such a program.

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If a University of California medical school were to determine that the COVID-19 pandemic has made apparent the screaming need to increase cultural competency among its graduates, it could not take the seemingly obvious step of targeting its student recruitment efforts toward Latinos or Asian Americans. Because of Proposition 209. A city might consider an appropriately tailored stimulus measure — in light of evident economic disparities in the pandemic-linked economic downturn — to be to increase the number of women-owned and minority-owned small businesses receiving city contracts to aid in economic recovery. But no city in California could take such a step. Because of Proposition 209.

Fortunately, the solution to this restriction on our collective ability to address racial and gender disparity is on our November ballot in California. A “yes” vote on Proposition 16 will enable California to consider narrowly-tailored and targeted solutions in public education, public employment, and public contracting to address the systemic injustice that so many of us want to tackle together. By permitting cities and counties, universities and school districts, and other government agencies to consider constitutional and tailored affirmative action programs, California will have the opportunity to once again lead the nation in securing opportunity for all in our state.

Proposition 16 will spark a great era of discussion, analysis and consideration of multiple approaches to reducing the unjustified race- and gender-linked disparities that we see in our economy and society. Such thorough and thoughtful consideration is not only required by the United States Supreme Court before any affirmative action program may be implemented, but it also means that Proposition 16 will catalyze changes in outmoded selection criteria and good-old-boy network decision-making. Policy analysis under Proposition 16 will prompt many changes that are not race-conscious or gender-linked, but that flow directly from the analysis required before even considering affirmative action programs. These changes – jettisoning who you know and who your parents are, in favor of carefully-crafted equitable opportunity for all – will benefit Californians of all races and genders.

ALSO READ: A Mixed-Race Girl Says ‘No’ to Proposition 16 and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

For 24 years, California’s elected representatives have never undertaken this thoughtful and thorough consideration of how to address the racial and gender disparities that statistics regularly show. The simple reason is that Proposition 209, aided by overly cautious government lawyers interpreting it, has convinced elected leaders that they would be unable to take the most effective steps – through affirmative action – to address the disparities. No politician wants to highlight an issue of public concern and then confess that they are utterly unable to begin to solve it. So, our policy discussion in California has been perverted and limited for almost a quarter century.

Proposition 16 will enable free and open discussion and consideration of steps to address gaping disparities in our state. This is particularly important in a state that leads the nation in the diversity of its population. 

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Despite opponents’ attempts to mislead, the fact is that Proposition 16 will not lead to “quotas;” they have been unlawful under the U.S. Constitution for over 42 years. It will not eliminate protections against discrimination; the proponents of Proposition 209 in 1996 added a redundant and unnecessary prohibition of discrimination precisely to mislead voters about the true intent of Wilson and its drafters. Discrimination on the basis of race has been unlawful under the federal and state constitutions since the civil right era.

Proposition 16 will enable consideration of constitutional and lawful affirmative action programs – narrowly tailored approaches to address racial and gender disparities. More important, Proposition 16 will allow us to have more open policy discussions about what we can do to root out those disparities – in education, employment and government contracting. The disparities are real, and a real threat to our state thriving in the future. For example, 60% of twelfth graders in California are Black or Latino, yet the two groups make up only 29% of undergraduates in the University of California system. 

Our future depends on creating opportunity for all. We can take an important step by voting “yes” on Proposition 16. 

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