Opinion Columnists Katelyn McCarthy and Melanie Moyer write conflicting views on whether or not to support Proposition 16.
Pro Proposition: Proposition 16 is a Step in the Right Direction
Proposition 209 hides under the disguise of an anti-discrimination practice. It’s time to unveil the reality of a ‘colorblind’ application and hiring process
By Melanie Moyer
Addressing inequality in a country that has an undeniable record of systematic oppression should be a process that is constantly revaluated as we develop new ways of achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that a proposition passed in 1996 no longer fits into modern discussions about racial and gender oppression. The inclusion of Proposition 16 asks voters to decide whether the ban of Affirmative Action from Proposition 209 in 1996 should be reversed. If passed, Proposition 16 would permit schools and public institutions to take race, ethnicity, color, national origin, and gender into consideration when reviewing applications. Perhaps in 1996 a ‘colorblind’ approach to assessing a candidate seemed appropriate. However, the conversation surrounding equitable hiring and college admittance has changed and it is time for our regulations in California to change with it.
One of the primary reasons many oppose Proposition 16 is due to the belief that the individual’s identity will be overshadowed by their identification with a certain group in applications. This argument would make sense if identification with a racial group or gender did not carry institutionalized meaning in our society. However, the reality is that economic, social, and cultural barriers still exist for marginalized groups in our country.
Recent developments in the Black Lives Matter movement have pointed out that Black folks in the United States have been systematically kept from the same economic resources and educational opportunities as white people have. Beyond this, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and People of Color, as well as women both within and outside of these groups, have been systematically kept from the same opportunities as their white male counterparts.
This is not to say that the script should be flipped and that white men should be kept away from opportunities in the same way marginalized groups have been. Instead, it points out that ‘colorblindness’ and other forms of erasing the lived experiences of marginalized groups harm the way they are received in society by pretending the barriers they face do not impact their standing in relation to those who do not have the same barriers.
Take, for example, the difference in education that a child who lives in a wealthy, white neighborhood receives than a child who lives in a poor neighborhood made up mostly of People of Color. As schools are funded primarily through property taxes respective to their county, it is obvious that students in poorer neighborhoods will have fewer opportunities than their wealthier counterparts. In the context of higher education, severely underfunded public schools are filled with students of color, showing the institutionalized barrier that exists for these students. Colleges need to understand this significant factor about their student’s lives in the application process.
In this way, Proposition 209 prevents decisionmakers from getting a full picture of an applicant and their qualifications due to the negation of the barriers they have had to overcome. Utter equity is needed to negate the importance of an individual’s marginalized identity in a hiring or recruiting process. California simply does not have that.
Proposition 209 is hypocritical in the way it cherrypicks what can and cannot be considered in an application process. Varsha Sarveshwar, president of the University of California Student Association, states that “colleges can consider whether you’re from the suburbs, a city or a rural area. They can consider what high school you went to. They can consider your family’s economic background. They can look at virtually everything about you – but not race. It makes no sense – and is unfair – that schools can’t consider something that is so core to our lived experience.” The truth of what can be included in an application makes us question whether Proposition 209’s goal is to completely level the playing field, or if it simply would like schools and public institutions to make decisions without considering racial inequity.
Without Proposition 209, many fear the consequences of making Affirmative Action available during application processes. An argument has been made that quotas and caps will be instated in schools and public institutions. However, according to the League of Women Voters, quotas will remain illegal if Proposition 16 passes. They report that “California has some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the nation, none of which will be altered by Prop 16.” Racial caps will also remain illegal if Proposition 16 is passed. Thus, any argument that racial discrimination would rule the application process in California leaves out that Proposition 16 does not permit any form of discrimination.
In this way, the consequences of Proposition 209 outweigh that of Proposition 16. As a result of Proposition 209, the League of Women’s Voters reports that “there has been a 12 percent drop in enrollment of students from underrepresented groups across the University of California system. In turn, this caused further declines in college graduation rates, graduate school admission and completion rates, and average wages for underrepresented Californians.” In terms of jobs in public institutions, “public sector jobs have become less attainable for certain groups since the passage of Prop 209. In particular, men and women of color remain underrepresented, especially when it comes to getting top management positions.”
Proposition 16 thus repeals something that has proven to be harmful to the lives of marginalized groups. Though it hides under the guise of an anti-discrimination procedure, Proposition 209 has proven to be the exact opposite. As our country grows and begins to heal its past of racial and gender discrimination, we must give ourselves the room to engage with modern discussions of equitable application and hiring practices.
Con Proposition: Proposition 16 Places Characteristics Above Character
Proposition 16 regressive by valuing the group over the individual, it tells people that they can prosper because of what they are, not who they are. By diminishing the value of hard work and increasing the value of physical characteristics outside of one’s control, it dehumanizes every individual of every race and sex.
By Katelyn McCarthy
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” stated Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech. I would like to analyze Dr. King’s statement here in light of Proposition 16.
In 1996, Californians voted to pass Proposition 209, which barred the California government from using race, sex, or ethnicity in school admissions, public hiring, and public contracting. Prop. 16 would reverse Prop. 209.
While the goals of Proposition 16 are admirable—namely, to grant opportunities to women and to people of color and to, ultimately, eliminate racial and gender disparities—the manner through which it hopes to achieve these goals contradicts them. It would reintroduce judgement on the basis of skin color and sex into the granting of opportunities, judgements which Prop. 209 rightly did away with. It would have us pay more attention to skin and sex rather than less, attentions which usually call prejudice.
One may argue that colorblindness and non-discrimination on the basis of sex are not yet realities, so affirmative action is necessary. I agree with this viewpoint in that racial equality and equality on the basis of sex ought to be goals in which we as a society are working towards. What I ask, then, is how affirmative action engenders a blindness towards color and sex, seeing as it is designed to recognize color and sex. Prop. 16 would perpetuate a society not blind to color or to sex by bringing attention to them, stating that they are factors which ought to be used preferentially.
This would create a system that would see people first and foremost in the collective. Prop. 16’s philosophy asserts that one is a member of a group first and foremost and an individual second. People, under this worldview, are more like objects than like living beings. One receives opportunities, the philosophy states, not because of the work one has done but because of the physical qualifications one possesses.
Some may argue that affirmative action is necessary because one’s race and sex impact one’s ability to receive opportunities to begin with. While equality of opportunity should most definitely be striven for, I think the first question we should ask should not be, “Will affirmative action increase the hiring and admission into colleges of women and people of color?” but, “Why is it that women and people of color do not receive fair opportunities in the first place?” Affirmative action doesn’t answer these questions. It serves as a Band-Aid, not a solution.
Prop. 16 would benefit (or harm) one based on these categories, which are entirely outside of one’s control. One can make the case here that those who have not historically been discriminated against are currently benefited because of qualifications outside of their control. I agree wholeheartedly that this is not something which should occur, but I question how Prop.16 will put a stop to it. Prop. 16, it should be noted, makes no provision as to which sex or races are to be treated preferentially, so to say that it will help minorities is to understand its intention but not its potential consequences.
How would Prop. 16 impact the person who, through no fault of his own, cannot check off the boxes? What can a person who fits no desired categories do? A free nation is one in which everyone is able to benefit from what he or she works for, not what he or she is born into.
One might say that to take the argument in this direction is misleading, as it fails to recognize the trials some communities deal with that others do not—in other words, that people in some communities are born into situations into which others are not. I agree, again, that all are deserving of equal opportunity. This objection, however, reverts once again to holding the collective above the individual. A female child of a racial minority who has two financially stable parents is better off than a white boy whose father is a drug addict. A collective mindset, however, does not recognize this.
It is logically erroneous to place the collective over the individual, as it is impossible for a collective, which is a group of individuals, to be important if the single individual is not important. There is one way, however, in which this philosophy behind Prop. 16 can work: if the human person is viewed as a means as opposed to an end. The individual is an end. The collective is a means. An individual viewed in the collective is indeed being viewed more as a thing than as a person.
A good point to keep in mind is that all people, regardless of the groups to which they may belong, are individuals. Thus, to value the individual is to value all, equally including women and people of color. To value the group, on the other hand, is to only value some.
This proposition need not be an issue of color and sex. It ought instead to be an issue of recognizing hard work versus recognizing bodily characteristics. All are capable of hard work. Individuals who face discrimination certainly ought to be helped. But lumping them into collective categories and reinvigorating consciousness into the prejudices which one forced them into those categories is not a path to better society. Rather than making these characteristics irrelevant to the way we see one another, Prop. 16 would make us see them all the more.
To create a truly fair system, I suggest the following solution. In college admissions, applications should cease to ask for the applicant’s ethnicity and sex and administrators should refrain from viewing an applicant’s name until after deciding whether or not to admit the applicant. This same evaluation process should be followed in public hiring and public contracting decisions. Racism and sexism would be immediately removed from these processes, as there would be no information contained in them off of which racism and sexism could feed.
If a process like this were followed, one would be better able to judge whence current disparities stem. Should the number of women and people of color being admitted into college or holding public jobs and contracts increase, we would know that the reason they had been less represented previously would have been due to discrimination. Should the number remain the same or decrease, we would know that the reason would be because they had not been receiving the same opportunities for merit as others had. This issue could then be addressed more precisely, and hopefully at an earlier stage. To begin addressing it once an individual becomes college-aged or enters the job market seems to me to be a little late.
So, while I cannot say what Dr. King would think about Prop. 16, I can say this: Prop. 16 judges based on the color of skin and on sex. It does not judge based on the content of character. What do we as Californians want to see first: one’s skin and sex, or one’s self?
Melanie Moyer '22,