This November’s ballot contains Proposition 16, which is about affirmative action, a very controversial practice. Voting yes on Prop. 16 would help many Californians by overturning outdated and harmful Proposition 209. Prop. 209 was voted on in 1996, and it “prohibits discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of sex, color, race, ethnicity, and national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.”
Already we see some issues with the language used in Proposition 209. Discrimination is already prohibited under the 14th Amendment and many other federal and state laws. There was no need for that to be a part of Prop. 209’s language, and its sole purpose was to make the proposition sound more appealing to voters. The second part of Prop. 209 prohibits preferential treatment, which is equivalent to banning affirmative action. Because of this proposition, we currently do not have affirmative action in California’s public institutions or government employment.
The basic idea of affirmative action is giving historically marginalized groups preferential treatment in places where they have not been given the same opportunities. The purpose is to tackle lingering inequalities that we still see in the systems of employment, education, and contracting. Prop. 16 would allow affirmative action to be implemented once again.
Berkeley High School students, specifically students entering college, could also be affected by the outcome of Prop. 16. Right now, how we measure who is “deserving” of higher education is incredibly flawed. What we are measuring when we look at grades, SAT scores, and the extracurriculars of a student is privilege. While affirmative action is not a permanent solution, nor a perfect one, it is necessary in the flawed education system that we have now. Affirmative action would make sure that students with less privilege, who have a harder time succeeding in the current way we measure intelligence and merit, are given the same opportunities.
A lot of people who are against Prop. 16 don’t really understand what affirmative action is or are confused about what this proposition would entail. What makes affirmative action the most confusing is its vague nature. One reason why it’s vague is that it is against federal law for a state to require a quota or race-based point system. This means a public university couldn’t use ethnicity as the sole reason for accepting or rejecting an applicant, but could consider it when looking at the applicant’s background, qualifications, and life experiences. It’s also important to know that affirmative action doesn’t force public institutions to consider the race and gender of an applicant, it simply allows them to if they choose.
Unfortunately, polls show that a lack of understanding of affirmative action means that there is a lack of support from Democratic voters on Prop. 16, meaning it might not pass this coming November.
In 1996, people thought that affirmative action was no longer needed. It is clear that there is still inequality today in public employment, public education, and public contracting. They thought the fight was over in 1996, but we know that it is not. Vote YES on Prop 16!