By José Niño*
While everyone was transfixed by the 2020 presidential election, one of the biggest victories against woke activism took place in California on November 3, 2020.
Viewed as one of the bastions of the progressive left, California saw its voters thoroughly strike down affirmative action ballot initiative Proposition 16. After voters rejected Prop. 16 by a 57 to 43 percent margin, leftist observers were left scratching their heads at how California, a state that is 36.5 percent non-Hispanic white, would reject an initiative that purportedly combats racial injustice.
Prop. 16 would have repealed California’s affirmative action ban. Proposition 209, the affirmative action prohibition, was passed by voters in 1996. Prop. 209 put an end to the discrimination against or the bestowing of preferential treatment on individuals based on their ethnicity, national origin, race, or sex in public education, public sector work, or state contract work.
How Proposition 16 Shakes Up Conventional Wisdom in Politics
Prop. 16’s success is a likely sign of the obstacles that both the federal government and state governments will face when making attempts to ram through radical social engineering experiments. Even in leftist states such as California, there will be plenty of resistance. Although minorities have traditionally been reliable voters for Democrats, they do not necessarily see eye to eye with all aspects of Democrats’ agenda. When individual issues are put before the voters, the Left’s perceived hegemony starts breaking down.
The partisan squabbling of everyday politics only obfuscates the numerous contradictions within both of the major parties’ respective coalitions. Now that wokeism is becoming an integral part of the Democratic Party’s ethos, many minorities are beginning to no longer feel at home with a political coalition that increasingly caters to the political desires of affluent white liberals.
Asians and Hispanics Played a Substantial Role in Derailing Proposition 16
It’s undeniable that minorities helped derail Prop.16. Asian Americans have historically been known for their low levels of electoral turnout. Their lower rates of political participation have not prevented Asian Americans from being one of the most successful groups in the country. As of 2015, the household median income for Asians was $73,060, which is roughly 36 percent higher than the national median income of $53,600.
There is perhaps a lesson that could be learned from the Asian success story in America. Political activity is not the silver bullet to societal problems. However, politics is omnipresent these days, and no group is exempt from the managerial state’s perfidious behavior. Asians have learned firsthand how the state is used to discriminate against them via affirmative action, which generally punishes Asians, who tend to be high achievers in academic settings. As a result, Asian organizations will occasionally rise up to rally against affirmative action initiatives that gain traction in states with sizable Asian populations such as Washington. In the case of California, Asians made their presence felt in counties all the way from Santa Clara County down to Orange County by rejecting Prop. 16.
Unlike woke leftists, Asian Americans have bought into America’s meritocratic spirit and are willing to defend it not just because it suits their interests, but also because when bureaucrats attempt to subvert it by creating an ethnic spoils system it creates bad precedents. Many Asian parents fear that affirmative action will not only hurt their children’s educational and economic prospects but may also undermine the concept of merit-based admissions while adding racial divisiveness to the equation. Mixing politics with ethnic grievances is just asking for social instability. Many countries such as the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and South Africa have already given us sneak previews of what sectarian and ethnic political conflict looks like. Why add an American chapter to the tragedy of ethnic strife gone political?
Asians also had an unlikely ally in Hispanics during the fight against Prop. 16. Although not as successful as their Asian counterparts, Hispanics have been an ascendant minority group in the last few decades. From 2012 to 2017, the median Hispanic income grew by over 20 percent. As of 2017, the Hispanic median household income is around $50,486 when adjusted for inflation. Furthermore, the number of Hispanic young adults enrolling at universities increased from 22 percent to 37 percent from 2000 to 2015. With time, Hispanics are showing similar traits to the Catholic ethnic groups that preceded them over a century ago.
The Prop. 16 vote demonstrated that Hispanics aren’t blindly walking down the woke path. The New York Times reported that all fourteen of California’s majority Hispanic counties voted down this measure. Some counties such as Imperial County, which is nearly 85 percent Hispanic, voted against this measure by a 16 percent margin. This took place despite Imperial County going to former vice president Joe Biden by a wide twenty-seven-point margin.
Why Minority Political Preferences Are Hard to Predict
Political experts often claim to know how voters will behave. They feel that because a policy is allegedly racist, x ethnic groups should vote against it. The real world does not work in such racially reductionist ways, however. As immigrants and other minority groups get settled down, their interests may change. It’s the height of arrogance to assume these groups will follow the guidelines set forth by woke commissariats.
A similar case of minorities defying conventional wisdom occurred when California voters approved Proposition 187 in 1994. Nearly 59 percent of voters pulled the lever for a measure that prevented illegal aliens from receiving public benefits. Although Prop. 187’s opponents made the usual accusations of racism, Prop. 187’s passage featured a diverse coalition of supporters. Fifty-six percent of African Americans supported Prop. 187 in addition to 57 percent of Asians. Although the media at the time was convinced Californian Hispanics would universally reject the initiative, 31 percent of Hispanics ended up supporting it. In Los Angeles County, one of the metro areas with the largest Hispanic communities in the country, 51 percent of voters backed this proposition
The dirty secret most political experts don’t want the general public to know is that ballot initiatives offer unique opportunities for groups of all backgrounds to deviate from their party bosses’ preferences.
Affirmative Action Is about Sowing Racial Unrest and Political Elites Love It
Affirmative action is an elite-driven policy that is categorically rejected by normal people once it’s put on the ballot. All told, elites enjoy using identity politics as a way of consolidating their power. Prominent foundations such as the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Foundation are notorious for lavishing ethnic activist movements such as the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund with vast sums of money. These groups are among the most active in petitioning bureaucrats to grant them ethnicity-related largesse. The good news is that many Hispanics have largely given these groups the cold shoulder. Nowadays, ethnic lobbies of this sort are mostly involved in live-action role playing about oppression while the people they claim to defend go on with their normal lives and ignore their constant screeching about racial justice.
Ideally, political elites would like nothing more than state-sponsored ethnic conflict. Having multiple groups pitted against each other in petty political squabbles makes effective opposition against the managerial class virtually impossible. In the meantime, the ruling class is perched on their lofty abodes sketching out plots on how to continue making Americans’ lives miserable, knowing full well they won’t be facing any coherent challenge to their power.
Divide and conquer 101.
Why Affirmative Action Must Go
Affirmative action is a child of the civil rights revolution, where the American state has taken it upon itself to micromanage the private, voluntary affairs of business and civil society organizations under the banners of equality and racial justice. In a society where there exists a clear separation between economy and state, free individuals should be allowed to hire and associate with whomever they desire. They can do so along whatever basis they so choose—ethnic, gender, religious, etc.
Although affirmative action is generally associated with the Left, both political parties have largely kept it in place. The first affirmative action policies were implemented under the Nixon administration through his Philadelphia Plan, a measure that forcibly integrated construction unions working on federal projects. Like all administrative carve-outs, succeeding governments have broadened affirmative action’s scope. Even Republicans such as the late George H.W. Bush have used the Department of Education to keep minority groups from having to deal with a “hostile work environment.” George W. Bush pushed the envelope even further by promoting “affirmative access” on the campaign trail in 2000.
Orwellian rebranding aside, any conservative “alternative” to affirmative action will most certainly maintain the same property rights–destroying facets. To the Trump administration’s credit, it did ditch a number of Obama-era policies calling on universities to use race as a criterion for diversifying their institutions. The administration opted for a more race-neutral approach to admissions. However, the it has not followed up with any significant steps to scrap affirmative action altogether.
Any kind of meaningful resistance against affirmative action will have to come from the states due to the difficulty of implementing change at the federal level.
America’s federalist system still works, and other states are beginning to get the memo. Earlier this year, Idaho’s state government signed a law that prohibits the use of affirmative action for state agencies, state contracting, and public education. States such as Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and Oklahoma have previously passed constitutional amendments to ban affirmative action. In all likelihood, state-level political activity—whether it’s legislation or referenda—will be the primary instrument of change in America. Focusing too much attention at the federal level will no longer cut it, thus requiring a more bottom-up approach to scrapping social engineering policies.
Source: This article was published by the MISES Institute