This November, California will be voting on whether to allow affirmative action in public hiring, contracting and college admissions – nearly 25 years after voters banned race-conscious decision-making in employment and education processes.
If approved, Proposition 16 would repeal Prop. 209 that was passed in 1996 to stop state and local governments from using policies that consider race, ethnicity, national origin, or gender in hiring or admissions decisions.
Prop. 16 has garnered new support amid the heightened moment of racial awareness. Supporters believe affirmative action is absolutely necessary for addressing systemic racism by elevating marginalized communities into spaces historically dominated by white, often wealthy men.
“I think the death of George Floyd made racism very real for people; they could see it. And now what I was asking them to do was to act on it, stop telling me how horrible it is, stop telling me that you really didn’t know that, stop telling me that this is such a revelation for you,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chairwoman of the California Legislative Black Caucus and lead author of the legislation that led to the proposition, CBS Sacramento reported. “Now the question becomes, what are you going to do about it?”
Affirmative action opponents argue the practice is not true equality and often relies on specific communities, mainly the Asian-American community, as wedge groups. Efforts to dismantle affirmative action by arguing it discriminates against Asian-Americans have made headlines in recent years.
In 2019, a federal judge rejected claims that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminated against Asian-American applicants through affirmative action. The ruling was appealed and the court began hearing arguments in September.
According to NBC News, Proposition 16 in California has won the backing of more than 100 prominent Asian organizations such as the California API Legislative Caucus and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Public opinion polling consistently shows that nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans support affirmative action in higher education and the workplace.
“When we look at elite institutions as the hill we want to die on in terms of affirmative action, we’re missing the fact that, in reality, most of our children gain entry to higher education through other pathways,” Victoria Dominguez, the education equity director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, told NBC News.
While the conversation about affirmative action often focuses on elite institutions, Prop. 16 will also have profound effects on community colleges, expanding opportunities for the many Asian, Black, and Latinx Americans that do not have the economic ability to attend elite universities.
Early voting periods have already begun in California for the Nov. 3 election.
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