It’s happening on the left coast, where weird things happen with sufficient frequency to suggest that it’s not worthy of being taken seriously, but it reflects a shift in perspective that could soon come to a state near you. Proposition 16 will be on the ballot in California.
A “yes” vote supports this constitutional amendment to repeal Proposition 209 (1996), which stated that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.
Amending the state Constitution isn’t unusual in California, since legal stability is for squares. The point of Prop 16 is to repeal Prop 209, which prohibits discrimination.
Proposition 209 stated that discrimination and preferential treatment were prohibited in public employment, public education, and public contracting on account of a person’s or group’s race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.
In a calmer time, being against discrimination was fundamental liberal tenet. The California Supreme Court held that this prohibited making “distinctions in treatment; show partiality (in favor of) or prejudice (against)” people on the basis of the specified criteria such as race. But these aren’t calm times,
While it was once considered the height of liberalism to eradicate discrimination, the tides have shifted back toward institutionalizing discrimination, just in the opposite direction. Where once racial discrimination was wrong because it favored white people and harmed black people, the concept of racial discrimination has been redefined, as have so many other basic concepts, to limit it to discrimination against the powerless and oppressed. After all, the powerless and oppressed are incapable of discrimination under this redefinition, no matter how overt.
What California seeks to do is make discrimination great again, only this time in favor of black and brown people and against white people. They went from ending discrimination against black people to equality, and now want to go from equality to discrimination in favor of black people. Their argument is that only racists like the KKK would oppose changing their Constitution to favor discrimination.
Scarcely more than a week from Election Day, the champions of California’s Proposition 16—a ballot initiative that would repeal the ban on racial preferences in the state constitution—are desperate to push the measure over the top. So they are falling back on a scare tactic: accusations of white supremacy.
One recent ad urging a vote for Prop. 16 says the Yes on 16 campaign is supported by leaders like Sen. Kamala Harris. By contrast, it says, the measure is “opposed by those who have always opposed equality.” In case you miss the point, the ad features men carrying tiki torches at the infamous white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The setup is one of fringes, akin to the Kendi argument that anyone who isn’t in favor of discrimination in favor of black people is a racist. And no doubt that racists will oppose Prop 16, but then, so too will anyone who believes in equality. So many like to style themselves as being against racism, but they’re not. One cannot believe that racial discrimination is wrong while simultaneously believing that it’s right as long as you’re okay with the people enjoying the benefit of discrimination. The argument is the same, with only the color of skin changed.
But what about the new definition, the distinction between the powerful and powerless? Putting aside the stereotypes that race tells all, that all white people are oppressors and all black people oppressed, Prop 16 neither draws this distinction nor could it. This constitutional shift would serve just as well to exclude black people from opportunity as white. That’s how racism works, no matter how large the bowl of critical race theory word salad.
And contrary to the gross exaggeration that’s become pervasive across the nation to suggest that black people are being murdered in the streets by cops by the thousands and routinely denied educational and employment opportunity, equal opportunity works.
Prop. 16’s supporters also claim that racial minorities have been devastated since the state was prohibited from using race as a factor in decisions, especially at California’s public universities. In fact, the number of blacks admitted to the University of California has more than doubled since the year before Prop. 209 went into effect.
The number of Chicano/Latino students admitted has increased nearly five times. Contrary to what Prop. 16 supporters would have you believe, 41% of the 2020 class of admitted freshmen students are black or Chicano/Latino across the University of California system. Chicanos and Latinos represent a plurality at 36%, which is more than the 35% who are Asian-American and the only 21% who are white.
No, we’ve not achieved racial bliss yet, and may never do so, whatever that state may look like. But we’ve come a long way, baby, in eliminating racism, contrary to the inexplicable belief that everything is worse today than it’s ever been.
Fearmongering has long been an effective weapon in getting the unduly passionate to ignore reality and to blindly accept a toxic and unsustainable ideology on the other side of the racist mountain. That’s the pitch being made in California as well as much of the country, that racists oppose this constitutional amendment. Except racists are for it too.
Those of us who have spent the past 60 years trying to eliminate racism, to promote equality, to end a nation that pits race against race, who are just as antagonistic toward white supremacy as black supremacy, should reject this effort to make racism great again. The solution to racism isn’t more racism. It’s ending racism.