by Anika Jain (’22) | November 16, 2020
This year, there was a large dispute over racial justice on the California ballot. California currently stands as one of only eight states that have banned affirmative action, a practice which refers to policies benefiting minority populations that were previously discriminated against in legislation. The purpose of affirmative action is to offset the disadvantages and disparities associated with race and gender.
To provide context, Prop 209 was passed in 1996, forbidding academic admissions offices, state employers, and contractors from using applicants’ race and gender to decide who would receive a position. California became the first state to ban affirmative action, and seven more states followed its lead soon after. In recent decades, Prop 209 has generated systemic discrimination against women and people of color, fostering unequal educational fields and working environments. This lack of equal opportunity motivated state lawmakers to add Prop 16 to the ballot this year.
California Proposition 16 sought to end the diversity ban by repealing Prop 209. Although the Supreme Court ruled explicit racial quotas to be unconstitutional under University of California v. Bakke in 1978, a school’s use of affirmative action to accept more minority applicants was ruled constitutional in certain circumstances.
On November 3, Prop 16 received large support from the counties of San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. Supporters of Prop 16 hoped that the recent media coverage of institutionalized racism would galvanize interest in reconsidering discriminatory policies like Prop 209. Unfortunately, 57% of California voters still voted against Prop 16.
Personally, I was disappointed by the outcome. If I were an eligible voter, I would have voted in favor of Prop 16 because I believe that every employee deserves the same amount of pay for the same amount of work, regardless of race or gender. Additionally, I would hold that education should be a right, not a privilege. Prop 16 would have ensured that equal economic opportunity is granted to all Californians.
The outcome also comes as a shock because of the significant financial endorsements in support of Prop 16 from the California Democratic Party and traditionally conservative California Chamber of Commerce. While their opposition only managed to raise $1.5 million, proponents of Prop 16 managed to raise $20 million. Leading politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, vocalized their support as well.
Prop 16 was also endorsed by the University of California, which noticed a significant decline in Black and Latinx enrollment at their schools after Prop 209 was passed. UCs have adapted new admission strategies to offer opportunities to students of color, but there is still an enormous gap in the racial demographic of UC undergraduates. On the other hand, following Prop 209, there was a sizable increase in the number of Asian-American students at UCs. Consequently, the Asian-American community raised concerns that they would be discriminated against if Prop 16 were passed.
Being Asian-American myself, I sympathize with the animosity towards the hypercompetitive sphere that Asian students battling for limited seats in universities must face. These spots would only become more selective if affirmative action were reinstated. However, I stand by my support for Prop 16 because affirmative action is crucial in combating economic disparities, the result of centuries of systemic abuse. Morally, the benefits of affirmative action greatly outweigh the supposed cost.
Seeing as Prop 16 will not be passed this year, I hope to see it again on the ballot next year. I believe that it can improve the economic sphere and promote racial justice with long-term effects. Affirmative action would surely change the game for the better.