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Progressives campaign to legalize racial discrimination against Asians in California

The "Yes" campaign has accused those who oppose their call for legalizing discrimination of being white supremacists.

Noah David Alter Toronto
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A ballot measure in California, Proposition 16, seeks to allow the state to take race into account when determining admissions to state schools, and in awarding government contracts.

To do this, Prop 16 would repeal an anti-discrimination law which bars the state from considering "race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin" for admissions or government contracts. It has received support from progressive politicians, activists, and publications.

The progressive-led campaign seeks to reverse Proposition 209, a ballot measure passed in 1996. Prop 209 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 the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

The New York Times editorial board published in favour of Prop 16, arguing that the law it seeks to overturn has caused a drop in university admissions and federal contracts awarded to black and Latino residents of the state.

Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society, told The New York Times that Prop 16 would not reinstate affirmative action. "Prop 16 doesn't mandate anything, it simply unties the hands of state institutions and policymakers," she said. Affirmative action has been illegal in California since 1978.

If Prop 16 were passed, it would allow government and universities to discriminate in favour or against certain races when making decisions hiring, admissions, and contract decisions. Essentially, it would allow these institutions to favour protected racial groups over others, without establishing specific quotas.

The Washington Post similarly published in favour of legalizing discrimination on the basis of race and sex, asking "[how] could a measure that seeks to advance diversity fail in the most diverse state in the United States?"

Despite the progressive push to adopt the motion, Prop 16's having received the support of high profile politicians such as Senator Kamala Harris, and having outspent the opposition by 20-1, Californians appear to be rejecting the ballot initiative in opinion polling.

In their determination that the ballot measure should pass, the Washington Post noted that the opposition to the repeal campaign has widespread support among Asian communities. Asian-American organizations played a large role in spearheading the original imposition of Prop 209, the measure Prop 16 would overturn.

Asian students are overrepresented in university admissions, and organizations representing Asian Californians worry that the repeal of such laws would end up keeping them out of universities.

Such fears are not unfounded. Both Harvard and Yale, two of the most prestigious universities in the world, have been accused of actively discriminating against Asian applicants, although the lawsuit against Harvard alleging such discrimination failed.

Marc Ang, president of Asian Industry B2B and director of outreach for the "No" campaign said "[why] fix something that ain’t broke?" Yumi Wilson, writing in the Washington Post, however, argues that the system is broken, as black and Latino students face lower test scores than their white and Asian peers and therefore have lower rates of admission to University of California schools.

It is the Asian community that is spearheading the initiative to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, as favouring race over test scores would leave many Asian students unable to attain admission. Yet the pro-Prop 16 campaign has has accused those who oppose their call for legalizing discrimination of being white supremacists.

According to a campaign ad released by the "Yes" campaign, the motion is being "opposed by those who have always opposed equality" alongside footage of neo-Nazis marching with tiki torches at the infamous Charlottesville rally in 2017. It is unclear how or why Asian-Americans supporting anti-discrimination laws qualifies them as white supremacists.

Unfortunately for progressives, however, the proposition is unlikely to pass, with just 31 percent of Californian voters saying they will vote in favour of the initiative according to a recent poll.

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