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Why Proposition 16 is valid

Black Lives Matter and anti-discrimination signs line a fence in Washington D.C. after protests following the murder of George Floyd. Photo by Ted Eytan

2020 marks a year of turbulence with regard to the global health crisis brought on by COVID-19, mounting socio-political tension due to a spark in popular human rights movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM), and a number of other issues plaguing the U.S.

Though there are many things up for debate this upcoming election, one controversial ballot measure has gained a lot of attention: Proposition 16.

What exactly is Proposition 16? Proposition 16 is a measure to repeal Proposition 209, which passed in 1996 and banned affirmative action to help disadvantaged groups in public education, employment, and contracting. 

Voting yes on Proposition 16 would allow public entities to develop and use affirmative action programs that evaluate race, sex, color, ethnicity, and national origin. The controversy surrounding this measure comes from the idea that this makes discrimination legal because these factors can be used in the hiring process and in the field of education.

However, by making these details known, state government, local governments, public universities, and other institutions are allowed to evaluate the circumstances of the individual and how systemic racism or discrimination has created an unequal playing field for them.

For example, institutional and societal racism against the black community is attributed to the culmination of centuries of oppression against African Americans. Slavery may have ended in 1865, but decades of open racial discrimination and terrorism in the form of Jim Crowe laws legally defined black people as second-class citizens. Stereotypes embedded in American culture solidified the visceral image of criminality and portrayed African Americans as social threats to whites. 

Add in a history of racism enforced by the police and the prison industrial complex that unequally targets minorities, as seen with the U.S.’s blatant targeting of blacks during the war on drugs, the U.S. concocted a social hierarchy built on the racial logic that portrayed blacks and other minorities as visceral, dangerous, and innately criminal. Furthermore, minorities, especially African Americans, are more likely to grow up in impoverished areas and receive lower-quality education than their white counterparts.

These negative stereotypes imposed on minorities contribute to what Danielle Raudenbush, a University of California, San Diego Sociology Professor calls the “spill over effect,” in which discrimination in one part of life can “spill over” into other parts of life, creating a domino effect. Hypothetically, a black man can be viewed as a criminal from youth, simply because of the color of his skin, affecting his education and opportunities as a young-adult early on in life. This same discrimination “spills over” and can later affect job opportunities, education, and even healthcare. 

A study conducted by NPR and Harvard University revealed that of the 802 African American’s surveyed, 57% reported that they have been personally discriminated when being payed or promoted equally, 56% reported discrimination when applying for jobs, and 36% reported discrimination when applying to or attending college. The study also showed that African Americans agreed that racism and discrimination have directly and negatively affected them in many aspects of their daily lives. 

This is just one of the many examples of a type of individual that would benefit from Proposition 16. By allowing entities to evaluate an individual and determine why their success might have been stunted because of circumstances beyond their control, a person of color who might have grown up in a poor neighborhood and received a lower-quality education than their white counterpart, would receive more consideration from the institution. 

Discrimination is a combination of structural factors within broader society that cannot be boiled down to a single root cause or a single effect on individuals. Factors such as race, sex, education, and socio-economic status are all closely related. Institutionalized discrimination all intersect because of these factors. 

This isn’t to say that whites can’t be dealt a poor hand in life, or that they are less deserving of a career or education opportunity than a minority. White people still grow up poor and they still face hardships.

However, the color of their skin is not the root cause of their issues. A white person’s existence is attached to a history of oppression only as the role of the oppressor.

Voting yes on Proposition 16 helps the U.S. atone for its history of oppression and recognizes how systemic discrimination is still in effect today.