By now, many of you have undoubtedly heard about Proposition 54. This initiative, which is backed by Ward Connerly, the UC Regent behind Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action in university admission and government hiring, proposes to ban the state of California from collecting data regarding race, ethnicity, color or national origin.
Though Connerly envisions the elimination of racial categories as a way of heralding a colorblind state, the initiative makes exemptions for classifications that satisfy what the initiative refers to as a “compelling state interest,” such as medical research, law enforcement and the Department of Fair Housing and Employment.
These exemptions have been critiqued as seriously flawed, especially with regard to the medical research exemption. Opponents have argued, for example, that medical research typically refers to controlled experiments, and does not clearly apply to population studies or similar research conducted by state agencies. These latter studies encompass a wealth of information with regard to racial disparities in health care access, risk behaviors, disease patterns and other health issues.
Ultimately, a question that has been little addressed is why Prop 54 does not exempt the collection of racial data in the educational system as a “compelling state interest.” Data collected by state agencies shows continuing disparities between racial groups in educational outcomes in California’s public schools.
For example, although Census Bureau data shows high school completion rates are coming closer to parity across racial groups (though Latinos still lag further behind all other groups), data collected by the California Department of Education reveals that fewer percentages of Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islander students complete UC and CSU requirements in comparison with their white, Asian-Americans and Filipino counterparts. Educational outcomes are in part shaped by the structure of the educational system itself; whites are slightly more likely to go to schools with more college preparatory math courses. Schools with higher concentrations of African-Americans and Latinos typically offer fewer Advanced Placement courses.
Even Connerly himself acknowledges in a December 2000/January 2001 Boston Review op-ed piece that “our K-12 schools have failed far too many minority students,” even as he argues against alternatives to standardized testing in university admissions. Connerly could have never made that statement had there not been data that tracks these racial disparities in the first place. Though Connerly appears to be aware of the problem, apparently it is easier for him and his supporters to hide inequality instead of addressing it.
The fact that education, along with public contracting and public employment, is one of the few areas not exempt under Prop 54 should not only give us pause, but make us wonder about the true motivation behind this initiative.
Connerly appears to be willing to sacrifice necessary information to combat educational inequality to allay his and other conservatives’ fears about the use of race in university admissions. Indeed, columnist George Will, a supporter of Prop 54, has framed the initiative as helping to nail the coffin on the so-called “racial spoils system.”
Instead, Prop 54 will nail the coffin on any and all efforts to address racial inequality in public education and other areas. Vote no on Prop 54 this Oct. 7.
For more information, please consult www.informedcalifornia.org.
Josef Manuel Liles is a graduate student in sociology.