In California, SCA 5 may be DOA due to Asian Americans against affirmative action

March 14, 2014 1:06 PM

For a change, there's a movement to restore affirmative action, and not to end it.

Unfortunately, because of some short-sighted Asian Americans, SCA 5 may die before it can get to the electorate.

SCA 5 is Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 5, which seeks to overturn Proposition 209 in California. That was the initiative that won a simple majority at the ballot in 1996 and ended the use of race in all educational admissions, public hiring, and public contracting.

Since then, Prop. 209 has been replicated like a bad seed to thwart affirmative action, but not without legal challenges along the way, including in Michigan, where its version is now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In California, Prop. 209 has survived all challenges at both the state Supreme Court and at the legislative level. Meanwhile, the state's black, Latino, and segments of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, most notably the Filipino, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander groups, remain woefully underrepresented.

Still, to overturn 209 is practically herculean. Having passed an initiative process, Prop. 209 became a constitutional amendment. And to overturn that requires amending the amendment--no small feat.

It hasn't stopped State Senator Edward Hernandez (D-West Covina) from trying. After three attempts to pass a measure to reverse Prop. 209, his latest, SCA 5, was approved in the Senate this year.

Now it goes before the State Assembly for a vote, and if it's passed by a super-majority there, it goes before the voters in a referendum as early as Nov. 4 this year.

Climbing Mount Everest might be easier.

The political fight to kill it has already begun. Some Asian American groups against affirmative action have jumped the gun and gone on the offensive, targeting electeds, including some Asian Americans in both the Senate and the Assembly in Southern California.

It's a different role for Asian Americans, even in the affirmative action debate.

Normally, the fight is over ending affirmative action, and Asian Americans are trotted out by predominantly white anti-affirmative action groups as the poor "aggrieved victims," as in Texas and Michigan.

In this new California fight to reverse the ending of affirmative action, some Chinese Americans, most of them new immigrants, have learned their political role and have been quick to speak out first. And in a state like California, where Asians are the second largest ethnic minority after Latinos, politicians who are prone to ignore Asian Americans can't dismiss such a vocal contingent.

Some public officials reportedly have tempered their support or have begun to hedge on SCA 5.

On, over 100,000 signatures have been collected on a petition drive opposing SCA 5. The comment box shows the standard responses, such as the perversion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s statement, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

I doubt Dr. King would have supported Prop. 209. He would have supported SCA 5.

Other comments: "SCA 5 is NOT fair to the student who study and work hard. What a JOKE!"

And this: "I believe racial preference in college admission is not the right practice and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Children who study and work hard should deserve equal opportunity in college admission regardless of their race and gender."

And this: "Fairness is important! If a kid work harder and get better grade, no matter what, the kid should have better chance to go to desirable school!"

With that kind of response, or confusion, some Chinese Americans are already proclaiming SCA 5 dead.

Well, only if the politics of fear prevail.

While it's admirable to see Asian Americans in the process, a deeper understanding of what's at stake with 209 beyond one's short-term self interests is important.

The fact is Prop. 209 was written by two white academics who were trying to stem the tide of new competition from diverse groups in public education and employment. All 209 did was preserve the overrepresentation of certain groups, while making it impossible to do anything to remedy the underrepresentation of others.

If you can't use race in admissions or hiring, as 209 has shown, it's hard to adequately address ways to increase the numbers of underrepresented groups.

Thus, Prop. 209 preserved the status quo. And in some cases, it made things worse.

Since the passage of Prop. 209 in California, blacks have seen a 49 percent drop in offers to UC Berkeley, and a 16 percent drop to UCLA.

The Asian American numbers have also dropped. UC Berkeley's offers to Asian Americans before 209 were up by 75 percent, and by 14 percent after.

But that's just the freshman class.

If Asians are starting to sound like whites in this debate, it's no mistake. Asian Americans are the most overrepresented among all students in the UC system. When you look at the overall numbers at all the UCs, ideally, you'd want a public system to mirror the state's population, wouldn't you?

But look at the numbers: 

African Americans, 4 percent in the UC system, 7 percent in the state.
Latinos, 28 percent at UC, 38 percent in the state.
Whites, 24 percent at UC, 39 percent in the state.
American Indians, 1 percent at UC, 2 percent in the state.
Asian Americans, 40 percent at UC, 14 percent in the state.

That's why Prop. 209 needs to be reversed.

The numbers are out-of-whack. 

But the perception among the mostly new immigrant community in California is that race-based policies hurt them, and they adamantly oppose SCA 5.

Some of them are blinded to the fact that as a minority in our democracy, their interests are best served by working in coalition with African American, Latino, Native American, and LGBT communities to fight for greater equity in California's top public entities.

That's real strength in numbers. It's not about fighting to preserve your 40 percent overrepresentation in the UC system.

Ironically, many of the Asian Americans against SCA 5 are in the scientific community, where they see discrimination based on race or accent every day at their labs. For them, the remedy has been simple. They have always relied on working hard, scoring the highest in exams, and displaying their credentials to prove their worth and become successful.

It's what they know, and it can make sense in some contexts. In a true meritocracy, maybe it should.

But even they know, it doesn't always work in fighting the racism that people of color still face in America.

For true equity and fairness, SCA 5 and the repeal of Prop. 209 makes sense for all.
* * *
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. Asian Americans, 40 percent at UC, 14 percent in the state. That's why Prop. 209 needs to be reversed. The numbers are out-of-whack. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Emil wants Asian admissions to drop by 75%. He's full of self-hatred.
Posted by: Suk Min | Mar 14, 2014 7:04 PM

2. "When you look at the overall numbers at all the UCs, ideally, you'd want a public system to mirror the state's population, wouldn't you?" -- So you're promoting a quota system regardless of differences in culture and social-economical status. We will fight against SCA-5 exactly because there are racists like you.
Posted by: Peig | Mar 14, 2014 7:32 PM

3. "The Asian American numbers have also dropped. UC Berkeley's offers to Asian Americans before 209 were up by 75 percent, and by 14 percent after." -- Shame on you, Emil. This is a classic case of misusing statistics for causal reasoning. Either you just ignore sensible reasoning to advance your political agenda, or you don't even understand how to interpret stats. "If Asians are starting to sound like whites in this debate, it's no mistake. Asian Americans are the most overrepresented among all students in the UC system. " -- This is ironic. You just said Asian American were hurt by Prop 209, and right after you are saying Asian are overrepresented? Could you please help me understand what kind of logic is this? "That's real strength in numbers. It's not about fighting to preserve your 40 percent overrepresentation in the UC system." -- And you're saying this is because massive racial discrimination against other races, and massive preferential treatment to Asian Americans? Gosh....
Posted by: Peig | Mar 14, 2014 7:40 PM

4. Sure, why not punish Asians for what whites did to blacks hundreds of years ago, and while you are at it, give hispanics, the new majority in California a free ride, to get a wholesale votes at the expense of Asians. Let's get those Asians out of UC, and if they donot agree they are shortsighted. SCA5: Get Asians out because YES WE CAN.
Posted by: connie chen | Mar 16, 2014 1:28 PM

5. Contrary to what Emil writes, individual Asian students are actually judged by a harsher standard than are non Asians -- amounting for the equvilant of a 100 point SAT advantage for whites and a 400 point advantage for blacks and hispanics. It is his dubious notion of racial equality that looks at raw numbers and not what those numbers represent. Overrepresentation is not a matter of the numbers of students, but the number of students who are the nighest achieving. Clearly, if Asians as a group did not vastly outperform other groups scholastically, the percentages would indicate invidious discrimination. The record indicates the contrary, and all Asian parents want is for their children to be judged without respect to race. The result at the moment would be a higher proportion of Asian students, not based on invidious discrimination, but based on the disproportionate high achievement of Asian Students. Smugly attributing the concerns of Asian parents to fear mongering misses the point, and patronizes their real concerns that their children will be judged on their own merit, and not be sacrificed to a Moloch of faux equality. Alas, Asians are the new Jews, and just as when the Jews began to enter the upper echelons of education in disproportionate numbers, the dame arguments were made. The same stratagems were also employed as well: quotas, and holistic processes which miraculously disproportionately disfavored the higher achieving group. Rejecting prop 209 does not promote equity or fairness for all. The Asian parents and students who would be adversely affected see this clearly, and all the name calling, negative insinuations, and patronizing dismissals will not change this.
Posted by: bill | Mar 16, 2014 4:12 PM

6. Why do you use the term "ironically" when noting opposition to SCA-5? The basic meritocracy ( although not perfect) seems to reward those who work the hardeest and have the most talent. This had the appeal of actually working and being eminently fair. Race normed quotas have neither virtue.
Posted by: bill | Mar 16, 2014 7:21 PM

7. The premise that racial proportions in the admitted student population somehow must strictly reflect the racial proportions in the general population is one which begs the question. There is no argument, except for one's subjective preference, that these proportions must be the same. What if the Asian community placed less emphasis on education? What if the Asian community ignored its youth? What if that resulted in generations of underperforming Asian students? Could the Asian community then say to the general public, this is unfair, society is unfair, it is the responsibility of Californians to reverse this trend by admitting Asian students in favor of other races?
Posted by: Michael F | Mar 16, 2014 7:41 PM

8. Mr. Guillero, WRONG WRONG WRONG Affirmative Action is defined as to fix a past wrong. NOT discriminate against an outcome someone does not like. Answer unequivacally: Do you favor Equality of Opportunity OR Equality of Outcome. The real crime in California is how poor the public education system is, and how poorly it serves those children with the greatest need. SCA 5 does nothing to fix that. Rather it seeks to paint over those crimes by Potemkin Villiaging college admission. Mr. Guillermo, should you be just as outraged by these facts: In 2008 $1.1 billion in college athletic scholarships were granted. 0.1% of this went to Asian student-athletes. Where's the fairness in that? By my calculations $60M in scholarship money was taken out of the hands of Asian student-athletes. Is that fair?? Should we have a NBA or Hollywood affirmative action bill to get more Asians into these high-paying professions? Mr. Hernandez, does not care one whit about fairness and creating more opportunity of those in need. He's playing a race game for his own political gain. Sound familiar? Be outraged by these. Be embarrassed by the PC robots who voted for the bill only to backtrack when they actually read it after constituents raised a stink. Think about Mr. Hernandez's motives, agenda, and intent.
Posted by: tom p | Mar 16, 2014 9:55 PM

9. Why stop at race..... why not religion and sexual orientation? How many Muslim are represented at UC? Are Jews overrepresented at UC? How about LGBT people? I don't think so!
Posted by: Kim | Mar 17, 2014 8:04 PM

10. Mr. Guillermo, I am against SCA5 simply because it is not the right approach. If SCA5 proposes more government funds for K12 education of these underrepresented ethnic groups and prepare them for college application competition, I think most opponents I know would not have a problem with that. If SCA5 proposes more government funds to expand UC system and admit more students, most opponents I know would not have a problem at all. But the issue is that current version of SCA5 would give preferential treatment to certain groups, that is discrimination against other groups. I also do not like your tone that criticized Chinese American as narrow interested. I fight for my kids and my kids' future kids. It is my right to protect their equal education opportunity. I am not ashamed at all. Criticism against caring parents is despicable, or unbelievable at best. Last but not least, we are all Americans, regardless of where we are from and our skin color. We encourage mobility up social ladders. We care about these from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. We consider family socialeconomically background in the admission. Don't you think that is a better criterion than skin color?
Posted by: Robert Wang | Mar 18, 2014 5:50 AM

11. SCA 5 is dead now, and won't be coming back for a while. Why does race matter so much? How about using hair color or eye color or height or hair length or something totally irrelevant for college admissions. The assumption that different races need to be represented equally is totally wrong; diversity in a college, private or public, should be based on thinking process and culture, not something stupid like skin color. Some people are working on a waterproof skin dye, so that it can be applied to change the skin color of any person. Black people will be able to pose as whites if they want to. Soon skin color may be as trivial as hair color.
Posted by: alex | Mar 22, 2014 1:34 PM

12. Mr. Emil Guillermo has no idea on his view on SCA5. He is just talking out of the nonsense of liberal view ... I don't know how he is working for Asian-Amerian. He does not understand Asian Ameriacan is ethnically culturally diversed community. He is trying to paint them in one color.
Posted by: Jay Mckim | Apr 20, 2014 6:25 PM

13. Do you think it's fair for put a player over 70 years old on every NBA sports team for "diversity"? Or put someone an obese person on every elite track team or Olympic marathon team? Or a double arm amputee on a volleyball team? All for the sake of so-called "diversity?" I am not a hater of diversity. I have close friends of every race and religion there is. I am simply asking for a fair chance for Asians. Because SCA5 is clearly not fair. How is this promoting "diversity?" I say it's promoting racism. What's next? Money redistribution to poor black and Hispanic people because rich Asians have too much? Giving Asians harder tests? Taking points off SAT's for being Asian? All for the sake of diversity?! Imagine if this was the LGBT community. Would you condone the same? Would choosing students based on sexual orientation be thought as "diversity" or hatred? I study hard every day, so I can get into UC Berkley or UCLA. Please reconsider your views on SCA5 and not deny my classmates and I a chance to get into a good university because of our race.
Posted by: e | Jul 8, 201412:30 AM

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