Fight Discrimination with Discrimination?

GUEST WORDS--Nobody flocked to see the 1986 summer blockbuster Howard the Duck, which laid an egg at local theaters.

Are you ready to spend $15 to see its sequel, Howard the Duck, Unfeathered? This analogy is similar to what voters will face next month when they cast ballots to decide the fate of Proposition 16. 

Proposition 16 is a constitutional amendment that seeks to overturn Proposition 209, passed in 1996, thereby re-introducing preferential treatment in public employment, public education, and public contracting based on a person's race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Proposition 209 banned the use of affirmative action involving race-based or sex-based preferences in California. 

Proposition 16 is nearly identical to Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA 5), which the State Senate passed against my objections in 2014. As the Minority Leader in the Senate at the time, my wife Mei Mei and I galvanized the support of thousands of concerned parents and students to defeat the measure after it passed to the State Assembly. 

Nobody will argue against the fact that these are troubled times. Despite efforts to eradicate racism from our society, it still exists. But fighting discrimination with a ballot proposition that promotes discrimination isn’t the answer. Yet, this is what Proposition 16 does. 

No student should ever be told that they cannot be admitted to the college campus of their choice because they are Asian. No unemployed person should ever be informed that they cannot have the job they are well qualified for because they are a woman or they are black. No business owner should ever be informed that they cannot win a certain contract because it is reserved for white people only. Discrimination will become acceptable and legal and abused by decision makers, yet race is a factor over which a person has no control. 

Using discrimination as a tool to deny others opportunity they seek is no way to stop discrimination in California. Using discrimination to pick winners and losers only serves to divide and inflame us. It would be better instead to follow the advice of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who once stated: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” 

California doesn’t need another Howard the Duck. Our people need solutions. If our children are not receiving the proper K-12 education, no amount of discrimination on the basis of race, sex or color will help. A commitment to better schools and good teachers focused on outcomes, however, will. 

Prohibiting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin is a fundamental part of the American way. It was written into our state and federal constitutions for a reason. Repeating the mistakes of our past is not the way to move forward. Vote no on Proposition 16.


(Bob Huff served as the California State Minority Leader from 2012-2015 and is a part of Parents and Students for Racial Equality.)