Opinion / Berlin Fang

California's new racial discrimination

By Berlin Fang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-02-25 08:15

California's new racial discriminationIn January, US Senator Ed Hernandez of California proposed an amendment to repeal part of California's Proposition 209, which, enacted in 1996, ended the long-standing state affirmative action programs in education, public employment and government contracting.

Affirmative action was a legislative solution introduced in the 1960s to counteract institutionalized discrimination. Although signed into law by president John F. Kennedy, it was actually enforced by president Richard Nixon, who regarded it as "an almost hopeless holding action at best" as he did not want "to have the goddamn country blow up" when riots were tearing many US cities apart.

Supporters of the SCA-5 amendment to the article relating to public education, which would allow colleges in California to employ affirmative action, argue that since Proposition 209 was passed, the decline in the enrollment of minority students at University of California schools-especially black students-has been dramatic.

However, methods such as affirmative action only help politicians earn quick and easy political scores-hence their enthusiasm for them-they are really manifestations of the streetlight effect, a type of observational bias where people only look for whatever they are searching by looking where it is easiest.

Assigning a quota to a specific group for college admittance is the easier thing to do, compared to the considerably tougher task of systematically removing the hurdles to fairness and equality in the more formative years of an individual's growth, especially when it comes to the resources that are committed to primary and secondary education. Such efforts do not show immediate results for political gains.

Using affirmative action for college admission causes more issues than those it is designed to address. Racial quotas are used by colleges to increase student diversity, but if diversity is gained by sacrificing principles such as equality, we have reason to doubt the true value of such diversity. A society should not reward things a person cannot change, such as skin color, it is better to reward things a person can change, such as commitment, perseverance, creativity and hard work.

Cases such as Fisher vs University of Texas should have taught us that affirmative action has an innate irony, that members of certain groups are actually held back so that members of other groups can have a head start in the game. Qualified members from "majority" groups lose out in college admissions due to point systems that automatically award bonus points for "minority groups", even though, as Ben Carson so eloquently argues in the Washington Times, a child raised by accomplished parents from a minority group may get extra help while a white child from a problematic family is penalized, even if the latter has overcome greater adversity.

SCA-5 would unfairly punish Asian-Americans. It creates new wrongs for one group in order to sustain the illusion of paying for past wrongs done to other groups.

It is condescending to assume that some groups are not as competitive as others, which is racial discrimination of a new kind. Rather than privileges automatically enjoyed because of belonging to a particular group, personal character, hard work and other qualities within an individual's control should be the only factors determining educational competition. California's SCA-5 amendment means taking a significant step back in time.

Instead of going backwards, other states should be going in the opposite direction and copying California's Proposition 209. Affirmative action should be banned and real interventions should be made to help each and every child, from any group, to have an equal chance of being competitive. To achieve true fairness, a society should start from the obvious and be fair to everyone.

The author is a US-based instructional designer, literary translator and columnist writing on cross-cultural issues.


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