Prop 209 Just, Despite Governor’s Opposition

By Alborz Yazdi

If two children, one black and one white, with similar socioeconomic statuses and the same scholastic and extracurricular merits apply to a university and only one is accepted, which one should it be? Proponents of affirmative action policies claim that the black child must be given favor to counter historical oppression. This dilemma has become something of a controversy about freedoms and equal protection of rights. To resolve the issue, proponents of affirmative action must shift focus from race and minority status to financial status.

Currently affirmative action policies, those which take factors including “race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin” into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, are banned in the state of California. This statute, part of Proposition 209, has recently been challenged by proponents of affirmative action, who have won the favor of the previously AA–opposed California Governor Jerry Brown. Prop 209 has been challenged in the past and was taken to the appeals court in 1997 after it was voted into law in 1996. In September, Brown, who now supports affirmative action, vetoed SB 185 — a bill that would have countered Prop 209.

A main source of argument from both sides has been in reference to the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution provides that “no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Proponents of AA argue that Proposition 209, the California law banning affirmative action, imposes burdens on minorities and violates the equal protection clause. Opponents claim that favoring arbitrary qualities of racial distinction violates the equal protection clause in a sort of reverse discrimination.

Historically, consideration of race has been inextricably tied with socioeconomic status. African Americans have historically been at an economic disadvantage from the inception of the US, either as slaves or treated as second–class citizens. Although laws currently exist to protect against discrimination, the median household income for a white family was almost $20,000 greater than that of an average black family in 2006, according to the US census.

But does any of this mean that society ought to favor African Americans in the UC system? Before jumping to grant affirmative action for the sake of idealism, we must note that financial status already plays a role in college admissions. The assumption of affirmative action’s supporters is that racial privilege will counter the negative socioeconomic effects from a history of discrimination. If proponents hold that racial correlation with socioeconomic status legitimizes affirmative action, then the argument is void because socioeconomic status is already a consideration, independent of race. College admissions boards receive a variety of financial information like tax files when considering applicants. Why would information about race be a better financial indicator than actual financial information?

Returning to a simple instance, that of the similar black and white child applying to Harvard or Yale, what if the family income of the black child is slightly greater than that of the white child? Or if it is much greater? Has the race of the black child correctly indicated a successive denial and withholding of economic opportunity that sanctions an abnormal privilege?
As for affirmative action with gender considerations, women are generally the assumed recipients of the advantage. However, what colleges are looking for tends to be what girls have more of. For every 100 male students in the top ten percent of their class, there are 127 females. For every 100 male students taking AP or honors math courses, there are 117 females. For every 100 male students with a 4.0 GPA, there are 144 females. The only advantage males have is a higher average SAT score. The education system seems to favor women already. Let us consider the case of the two children, but this time with one girl and one boy. Similar financial status, same GPA and courses taken: who is to be accepted? Affirmative action policies would favor the female, although the male has achieved more in comparison to his male population.

Although affirmative action may be devised with the utmost benevolence, it is simply not an effective way to address discrimination. The best way to provide equal opportunity is to stratify applicants by financial ranking. This way, no one chooses which groups of people deserve favoritism. Equal opportunity should be promoted with discrete fact, not inferences from race and gender about the complexity of societal hierarchy. Fortunately, Proposition 209 has written this claim into law.