November 23, 2020

MICHAEL BARONE: Californians, and Americans, reject racial quotas and preferences.

Among the most surprising of the multiple surprising results in this election was California’s rejection of Proposition 16. The ballot measure was supported by the Democratic supermajorities in the state legislature, by long-established corporations, and by Silicon Valley tech firms, by leaders of mainline churches and nonprofit organizations.

Some $20 million was spent on its behalf and only $1 million in opposition. Yet, it lost by a solid 14-point margin in a state that voted 64% for Joe Biden.

Why? Because Californians, like most other Americans, don’t like racial discrimination. Proposition 16 was put on the ballot to repeal Proposition 209, which passed in 1996, which banned state government from discriminating “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.” Most Californians thought then and think now that that’s a good idea.

Disagreeing emphatically are the people who run the state’s giant state colleges and universities. Like their counterparts across the nation, they want to admit more black and Latino students than would qualify on non-race-based criteria such as test scores. The result, as documented by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor in their 2012 book Mismatch, is that more black and Latino students are admitted, but because instruction is pitched to the median student, many opt out of rigorous STEM majors or drop out altogether. Enforcement of Proposition 209 meant fewer black and Hispanic students at flagship campuses (Berkeley, UCLA) but more (and more graduates) at UC and Cal State campuses elsewhere.

Racial quotas and preferences these days discriminate less against whites than against Asians, who are denied places despite high test scores and rigorous preparation, much as Jews were in the Ivy League from the 1920s to the 1950s. Anti-Asian bias is made plain in lawsuits pending in federal courts against Yale and Harvard, whose admissions personnel suspiciously rate Asians low on “positive personality.”

Affirmative action — and its weasel-worded replacement term, “diversity” — has always been highly popular among elites, and highly unpopular among everyone else. And if you concluded from this that that’s because it is good for elites, and bad for everyone else, you would be spot-on.

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