Over 20 years ago, California voters did something no other state had done—they abolished racial preferences in public university admissions and other public venues. The language was simple and direct: “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.” It passed by a 10-point margin.
But the critics, including most of the University of California system leadership, were loud. They had predicted Prop. 209 would obliterate racial diversity throughout the university system, especially at the nine undergraduate UC campuses. Critics contended that 209 would “resegregate” UC, result in an “all Asian” university, and “drive blacks and browns from California and higher education,” I was personally accused of being a race traitor, a KKK sympathizer and an “Uncle Tom.”
My response was to virtually ignore, as best I could, the personal insults and to emphasize that in a system based on individual merit and fairness, it is morally wrong to design a system of competition based on presumed outcomes of winners and losers. I also argued that it is racist to believe that “blacks and browns” can’t compete with Asians and whites.
As it turns out, my prediction was correct. Although the University of California (UC) and certain members of the California Legislative Latino Caucus, which basically controls the Legislature, continued their attempts to undermine the law, the numbers prove that the critics were wrong. Beginning in 2010, minority admissions to UC — without the benefit of preferences — exceeded that of 1996, in absolute numbers and, more importantly, as a percentage of all "admits.”
California, the most ethnically and racially diverse state in the nation, proved that fairness was not fatal to diversity. But as groundbreaking as Prop 209 was, it didn’t create the national wave that I had hoped it would. In the immediate aftermath of its passage, there was a flurry of activity and interest from a few states that wanted to get out from under the yoke of affirmative action. I was involved in ballot drives in Florida and Washington, for example. But a generation after that first promising moment, our efforts have resulted in only five other states (Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Washington) which have passed initiatives patterned after 209. In addition, the states of Florida and New Hampshire have acted in other significant ways to emulate 209 without the use of ballot initiatives.
But too often over the years politics has hampered the push for equality. Although America is essentially governed by Republicans—the GOP dominates the majority of state legislatures and governors’ mansions—and the GOP professes to believe in individual rights and equal treatment for every individual, my party seems unwilling to defend its principles when it comes to race. In a conversation with a prominent member of the House about two years ago, when I suggested that legislation be introduced to reaffirm the 1964 Civil Rights Act and to include language patterned after Proposition 209, the member expressed fear of opposition from the Congressional Black Caucus and Maxine Waters. He cautioned me that “Republicans don’t need that going into a national election.”
All this left me resigned to the prospect our core principles favoring merit and equal treatment will not overcome the quest for diversity. That is, until last week.
Recently, we discovered that we may finally have a federal administration that is willing to do what should have been done years ago: conduct ourselves in accordance with the American creed of equality. I applaud the effort by the Justice Department to investigate the issue of affirmative action and to follow the people who voted to end race preferences.
But I’m under no illusions that this investigation, even one run by a Department of Justice overseen by a conservative of Jeff Sessions’ pedigree, will solve this problem masquerading as a cure. It has simply become orthodoxy that it is permissible to discriminate against one group as long as you say you’re trying to help another more politically favored group.
Democrats are no less to blame than Republicans for the failure to advance equal rights. They have had their opportunities to move us beyond racial preferences and squandered the moment.
The election of 2008 was a profoundly significant political event in American history. A majority of Americans elected an interracial man who identified as “African-American” as their president. This would not have happened without the support of whites, many of whom were conservatives.
One evening before the election, dining with two friends in their Connecticut home, the husband, whose credentials as a conservative Ronald Reagan Republican were unimpeachable, announced that he would be voting for Obama. His wife and I reacted with surprise. I made a slightly feeble attempt to dissuade him, arguing that I considered Obama to have socialist views. His response was a well-reasoned argument that we could survive his philosophy, but his election could contribute to racial progress in a way that no other event could accomplish.
We now see there was no effort to pursue a “post-racial” America, which was a primary theme imputed by his candidacy. He often seemed bent on hiding his biracial bona fides in favor of promoting his identity as an African-American. He admitted this when he explained that the box which he checked on the census form was “African-American.”
While I don’t presume to equate myself with him, my vision for America is the same one that Martin Luther King, Jr. had so many years ago, a vision where people are judged by factors that matter and not those that don’t, such as skin color, and where it doesn’t matter where you or your ancestors came from. I want to know where you want to go as Americans, not hyphenated Americans. Significantly, those who are considered Americans are white. We do not diminish their American identity with a hyphen. Why, then, do I need to be African-American? Or, others identified as Asian-American or Mexican-American?
Most proponents of race-based affirmative action argue that America is systemically racist. I don’t see it. Americans are dating and marrying across racial lines and raising their families to love each other without regard to their differences of skin color, hair texture or other features. But while race becomes less relevant to individual Americans across the land, the political class and academia promote “diversity” without let up. Diversity accentuates physical differences while equal treatment before the law diminishes this factor.
Every campus should abandon its quest for racial diversity, stop discriminating, primarily against those of Asian descent who are being handicapped by their own success, and embark upon the journey of getting beyond race.
This is not to suggest that all is well for all blacks, especially the underclass, but it is not hateful and oppressive whites who are holding them back. It is the lure of drugs, criminal activity, broken families, the lack of spiritual guidance, dropping out of school, and a host of other decisions, most of which are controlled by blacks themselves.
Affirmative action, as I see it, must be viewed in the context of our Constitution and our laws about race. Nowhere in the Constitution is there any reference to “diversity.” On the other hand, the Constitution and statutory law are replete with commands guaranteeing the rights of individuals to equal treatment before the law. Equality is the law and a constitutionally guaranteed right; diversity is social science advocacy. Even the Supreme Court has often misunderstood the difference. Only a clear and bold decision by the Supreme Court, reaffirming the constitutional guarantee of equal rights for every individual, can mitigate the dangerous national threat caused by the diversity rationale.
Although it would be my enduring hope that the Supreme Court would render a decision that would decisively resolve the individual rights vs. diversity debate that continues to reverberate in American life, I am not very optimistic about that prospect. The reason for my pessimism is that the Court, beginning with the 2003 case of Grutter vs. Bollinger at the University of Michigan law school set itself upon a course that embraced and strengthened the diversity rationale as a matter of case law. We know that once established, it is exceedingly difficult for the court to reverse its course. Thus, the Court has created a constitutional crisis for our nation and itself.
Unless and until the Court catches up with itself, the duty falls to the American people to reaffirm their dedication to our core constitutional principle of equal rights. Statewide ballot initiatives, such as the one I led in 1996, new statutes and how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives are useful ways of defying the Court’s adoption of the diversity rationale.
Our nation is on a perilous path. Ironically, our pursuit of diversity has contributed to our division. If we recognize the danger posed by a divided America, then the president, members of Congress, governors, legislators, county supervisors, city council members and every village and hamlet must review their laws and policies and abandon those that separate us based on race, color and ethnicity. I am convinced that a better America can only be achieved by a united America free from race distinctions and preferences.