weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR: California takes a shot at racial justice – and misses by a mile

Earlier this year in California, Democrats opportunistically seized upon the advice of Winston Churchill. “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” counseled the witty former prime minister of Britain.

The crisis at hand this year was the public outrage across the nation over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May and the riots, looting and protests it sparked.

The way to keep all this chaos from going to waste, Democratic state lawmakers apparently reasoned, was to do something drastic — something that oddly enough had nothing to do with police violence. So, in June, they approved a measure that put before voters an initiative that would bring racial and ethnic preferences back to the Golden State. Ever wonder how Americans got so divided?

In 1996, the divisive measure du jour was Proposition 209. It prohibited the state of California from taking into account race, ethnicity, gender and other factors in public employment, contracting and education. The initiative passed with 55 percent of the vote, and it took effect on Jan. 1, 1998.

Enter Proposition 16, which is on Tuesday’s ballot.

The new measure seeks to strike down Prop. 209 and essentially restore the same elaborate system of preferences that voters did away with 24 years ago.

This time, the folks toying with division aren’t the opponents of affirmative action but the supporters. The latter can be just as obnoxious and sanctimonious as the former.

In 1996, supporters of Prop. 209 peddled the laughable claim that affirmative action has produced systemic discrimination against white males. Today, the pro-Prop. 16 folks are airing a commercial that claims the opponents of the measure — that is, those who support Prop. 209 and oppose preferences — are limited to the kinds of white supremacists who carried tiki torches at that notorious Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

But not everyone who feels uneasy about racial and ethnic preferences is a bigot. I don’t see myself that way, but I argue that such accommodations hurt intended beneficiaries by lowering standards, creating stigma and masking inequalities at the K-12 level.

According to polls, Prop. 16 appears headed for a resounding defeat. Only about a third of likely voters support the ballot measure. A poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that those who support the measure include only 51 percent of African Americans.

Once again, the public is way ahead of the politicians. People know that police violence is a serious problem that calls for real solutions. And they know the same goes for striving toward parity among different racial and ethnic groups in how we dole out opportunities — especially the opportunity for a quality education.

And they want government and lawmakers to approach these separate issues — and they are separate issues — with the seriousness they each deserve. Prop. 16 doesn’t do that. It’s not serious. It’s sinister.

Contact Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.

Politicized pandemic policies have collateral damage to nation’s trust.

COMMENTARY: Avi Kwa Ame offers spiritual sanctuary for all

In a time when seemingly non-stop disagreement in our nation has become the norm, Avi Kwa Ame’s message of meaningful connection cannot be emphasized enough.