“For white people,” the activist Joan Olsson wrote, “learning to be anti‐racist is a re‐education process.” Reeducation is the right word, but it doesn’t describe a scholastic exercise. Reeducation is a method of unlearning. A successful reeducation is measured not in the subject’s agency, capacity to problem-solve, or rationally contest staid convention—the traditional objectives of real education—but in the zeal with which he internalizes and restates illogic.
The antiracism movement is replete with these sorts of challenges to common sense: Colorblindness is racially biased. Gender neutrality is paternalistic. And, perhaps most prominently, non-discrimination is, in fact, discriminatory. These self-contradictory shibboleths are no longer confined to college campuses. In California, an effort is underway to codify the tenets of this new faith into law.
Next Tuesday, California voters will be asked to ratify a new amendment to the state’s Constitution to “allow diversity as a factor in public employment.” That sounds nice enough, but Proposition 16’s practical effect would be to strike language from the state Constitution that explicitly prohibits discrimination.
The offending language—the obstacle to the pursuit of true racial equality and social justice, per Prop 16’s proponents—reads as follows: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group, on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Those who argue in favor of removing this language from the state’s founding charter are admirably honest about their objectives. True egalitarianism cannot be achieved as long as public officials operate from behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. What we need now isn’t anti-discrimination; it is discrimination that advantages the right people and disadvantages the wrong ones.
The New York Times editorial board provides a prototypical example of the arguments in favor of Prop 16. They note that research suggests enrollment in the University of California system among black and Latino students declined soon after the anti-discrimination clause was adopted in 1996. Indeed, they marvel over the fact that some minority students “who were rejected from elite schools then enrolled in less selective universities,” as though that isn’t precisely how a meritocratic system is designed to work.
In such a system, students of unique facility, as determined by objective performance metrics, will ascend through the ranks to join their similarly adept peers. Those who cannot compete at the highest levels find placements that are commensurate with their aptitudes—programs from which they’re more likely to graduate with a degree. And some prospective students for whom college and its associated debt burden isn’t a great fit will seek vocational training or even employment instead. Even if this, like all human systems, is flawed and corruptible, it is neither novel nor discriminatory—it is how a society dedicated to its own preservation continues to function.
The Times further claims that California’s commitment to non-discrimination prevents the state from granting taxpayer-funded public-sector contracts to women- and minority-owned businesses based on those criteria alone and regardless of their bids’ competitiveness. Again, in articulating the whole point of this constitutional amendment, the Times appears to assume that its readers will reflexively see this as a problem.
What the Times does not and cannot allege is that this anti-discriminatory language amounts to an affirmative action program for white or even Asian-American Californians. Studies of its effects would not support such a claim. Moreover, while the Times’ own reporting suggests that there is disagreement among scholars about the scope and range of negative outcomes associated with placing students in institutions they’re not academically equipped to navigate (usually as a result of their primary and secondary educational experiences), there is less disagreement over the existence of those unfortunate outcomes.
To convince the Golden State’s voters of the virtues of enlightened prejudice, Prop 16’s advocates have resorted to emotional blackmail. One particularly disturbing advertisement airing on statewide television in favor of the initiative likens its opponents to the white nationalists who marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017. Only “those who have always opposed equality” could fail to support a measure that is explicitly hostile toward the objective notion of equality, the Orwellian ad affirms. It is a telling, albeit implicit, admission that the advocates of this proposition insist that it “takes on discrimination” without confessing that their preferred remedy is slightly more targeted discrimination.
Fortunately, Californians don’t seem to be buying any of this. In fact, they appear set to mete out to these invidious would-be social engineers a profound humiliation.
For months, public polling has found that California’s voters are prepared to reject Proposition 16 even as they deliver a historic drubbing to Donald Trump. A late-October University of California, Berkeley poll found that a near majority—49 percent—disapprove of the measure. Outside of Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, majorities in every other region of the state oppose this plebiscite. It is underwater among both men and women, voters over the age of 30, Latinos, Asians, Whites, and anyone without post-graduate work under their belts. Hardly a coalition of reactionary racists or, for that matter, Trump supporters.
Advocates of discrimination in the name of equality have kept no powder dry. They’ve deployed all the shaming, dissimulation, and emotional manipulation in their arsenals. But they have failed to convince Californians that impartiality is tantamount to bigotry. In the process, antiracism advocates have given birth to a new cross-partisan coalition of voters dedicated to equality of opportunity.
In a year distinguished by the unnerving pace of regressive social change, Californians, of all people, have drawn a line in the sand. This far, and no further.