Some 140 years ago anti-Chinese violence swept through California. Lynchings and riots took hundreds of Chinese lives up and down the West Coast. Socialist agitators denounced the threat from Asian immigrants. Arsonists drove Chinese from their homes in Merced, Pasadena, and Riverside, just to name some larger cities. My hometown of Tacoma, Washington saw its Chinese population forcibly expelled in 1885. The World War II relocation of ethnic Japanese would follow after Pearl Harbor.
Today, in 2020, the California demagogues’ threats against Chinese and other Asians come not from lynch mobs but from well-financed television advertisements supporting Proposition 16, on the ballot this November. These TV ad buys, funded by lobbyists and millionaires, even feature a parade of torch-bearing racists marching at night. These ads suggest that the goal of the Proposition is to combat racism. But what Proposition 16 is actually set to do is abolish the prohibition on racial preference in government hiring and college admissions now enshrined in the California Constitution. Such a denial of equal opportunity would mean laws and regulations could allow and even encourage the sort of racial and ethnic conflict that civil rights laws ought to prevent.
What has befallen Asians, blacks, and Latinos in the state’s dark past should never happen again, but the passage of Proposition 16 removes the red light against discrimination. With bottomless financial support, outspending the opposition by over 10-1, television ads like the one mentioned above, might sway a majority of voters to pass this constitutional amendment.
The official summary provided by the state explains that Proposition 16 “Permits government decision-making policies to consider race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in order to address diversity by repealing constitutional provision prohibiting such policies…. The effects of the measure depend on the future choices of state and local government entities and are highly uncertain.”
The “highly uncertain” future of government decision-making concerning race and ethnicity includes the denigration of anyone in California’s vast public programs—public schools, employment, contracts, in other words, all manner of laws affecting children and adults, teachers and students, police and librarians, small businesses and mega corporations.
But why would anyone want to cancel laws preventing racial discrimination? The most charitable explanation—one can readily imagine others—is that it stems from a utopian fanaticism that assumes more government discretion and regulation will benefit the public, and especially racial and ethnic minorities.
From this mindset arises the wild charge that the California Constitution’s anti-discrimination provision has hindered blacks and Latinos from graduating from the most competitive campuses of the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA. This charge of “systemic racism” is nonsense. In fact, black and Latino graduation rates from those campuses are higher than ever, not to mention dramatic increases in minority graduation from the nine UC universities and the 23 campuses of the California State University system.
Life-long Democrats and distinguished academics such as African Studies Professor Charles Geshekter detail Proposition 16’s threat to these accomplishments. UCLA economist and law professor Richard Sander adds that blacks and Latinos “are much better represented at UC in 2017 (and any other recent year) than in 1997,” when the current non-discrimination policy took effect.
Moreover, political scientist Althea Nagai has the numbers reflected by the injustices in universities that have repudiated non-discrimination policies in both the UC system and the Universities of Michigan, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In every instance Asian-American and non-Hispanic white applicants encounter far steeper odds of admission. It is one thing for a private university such as Harvard to discriminate—see Nagai’s “Too Many Asian-Americans?” study—but tax-paying residents of a state should not encounter such burdens on their rights and dignity.
After experiencing the Civil War in the eastern half of the country and anti-Asian violence in the West, one would think that simple, colorblind justice toward all Americans by now would be the preferred policy for all sensible Americans. But especially in recent years, they don’t do things the commonsensical way in California. Their government leaves brush and fallen timbers in forests that would be kindling in a fire; it prevents middle-class housing from being built; they will take away cars and demand owners buy expensive replacements for them; and now California (never a slave state) is officially studying reparations for slavery.
The passage of Proposition 16 threatens to inflame California in an ugly way we thought we had outgrown. The Golden State doesn’t need more torchlight marches any more than it needs more forest fires. Proposition 16 would empower the state with the bribery tactics of those privileged parents now in or facing prison for illegally advancing their kids to selective universities. Let us hope the common sense and common decency of the people will prevail over the arrogance of the megabucks elites.