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Opinion: ACA-5 has good intentions, but poor execution

If you've been keeping up with the news lately, you may have seen mentions of ACA-5, a Californian bill that passed a few weeks ago, repealling the affirmative action ban set Proposition 209. If, like me, you happen to be Asian American, you may have also seen an outpouring of rage from AAPI parents regarding the passing of ACA-5. But what exactly is ACA-5, and why are people mad about it?

Before June 24, 2020, when ACA-5 was approved by the California State Senate, the Constitution of California prohibited the state from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting, as stated by Proposition 209 (the California Civil Rights Initiative).

The passing of ACA-5 repeals Section 31 of Article 1 of the California Constitution, which states the following:

  • 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 in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

  • This section shall apply only to action taken after the section's effective date.

  • Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

  • Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as invalidating any court order or consent decree which is in force as of the effective date of this section.

  • Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting action which must be taken to establish or maintain eligibility for any federal program, where ineligibility would result in a loss of federal funds to the State.

  • For the purposes of this section, "State" shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, the State itself, any city, county, city and county, public university system, including the University of California, community college district, school district, special district, or any other political subdivision or governmental instrumentality of or within the State.

  • The remedies available for violations of this section shall be the same, regardless of the injured party's race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, as are otherwise available for violations of then-existing California antidiscrimination law.

  • This section shall be self-executing. If any part or parts of this section are found to be in conflict with federal law or the United States Constitution, the section shall be implemented to the maximum extent that federal law and the United States Constitution permit. Any provision held invalid shall be severable from the remaining portions of this section.

This sounds like a good thing, right? With support for the Black Lives Matter movement at an all time high, this means that Black students have a higher chance of pursuing further education at top schools, right? Employers will be able to hire more BIPOC employees, right?

Well... Yes.

Which is why I support the cause.

But, as you may have inferred from the title, I don't support the execution to the same extent that I support the reasoning behind it.

While I firmly believe that there should be change in education systems in order undo centuries-old discrimination against BIPOC, I don't think that ACA-5 is the answer. ACA-5 is not a permanent solution, but merely a temporary seal placed to stop a leak.

Before I go on a tirade, I would like to preface the following section by saying that I mean no disrespect to anybody. I'd also like to put a disclaimer here, because while I have researched ACA-5, there may be crucial information that I somehow missed. I'm very happy to talk more about this topic- please send me a message if you're interested in further discussing this! Okay. End of disclaimer. Rant time.

Here are my perceived flaws of ACA-5:

  1. ACA-5 eliminates laws preventing preferential treatment and/or discrimination based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. So while that means more opportunity for underrepresented/underresourced students or employees, that can also be flipped to discriminate against them. In a perfect world, that would not be an issue, however, we live in a world where discrimination runs rampant, and it would be a shame to give those with prejudice the tools to further express their hatred.

  2. Once students enter their colleges, what happens to them? If the college doesn't have proper resources to support the student, then the student will quickly find themselves in mountains of debt, in a situation where they are overworked and underpaid and still hard pressed to obtain internships that for graduation. After they graduate, the student will enter the workforce to a crashing economy and persistent lack of diversity, which creates yet another issue.

  3. ACA-5 creates different standards for different racial groups. As part of the AAPI community, we are constantly expected to outperform our peers at the expense of our own happiness and health in order to meet an expectation perpetuated by the Model Minority Myth. ACA-5 further perpetuates this myth by allowing other racial groups preferential entry, which discounts the work that AAPI students undertake in order to enter the same schools. Some may argue that ACA-5 may work in the favor of AAPI students, but in reality? I highly doubt it. On average, Asian American students consistently outperform their peers in standardized testing, GPA, and other college indicators of success. This is not because we're inherently smarter than anybody else, but because we work so incredibly hard to maintain this high standard of education. In fact, this is also why AAPI students have such a high suicide rate- because they feel so pressured by society to be perfect students that they believe death to be the only escape. ACA-5 unintentionally pressures AAPI students more with the notion that now, with preferential treatment, they'll have an even smaller chance of attaining higher education than they did before. Note: this is not to discount the hardships that other BIPOC may have experienced either- I fully acknowledge and have compassion for the pain other BIPOC endure as a result of systemic racism and oppression. I believe other BIPOC deserve the opportunity to go to top colleges and universities as well, which is why this topic is so difficult to break down.

My proposed solution:

  1. Rather than simply allowing for preferential treatment, which is a temporary fix that does not address the root cause of why preferential treatment is necessary in the first place, legislators should shift their focus to investing in public education and providing resources for poorer neighborhoods. The key here is equity, rather than equality. Because public schools are largely supported by taxes and donations from surrounding neighborhoods, the schools in poorer areas are undeniably worse off. This, coupled with the fact that many children are faced with hunger and a lack of safe, reliable study environments, means that children living in poverty tend to drop out of school at a higher rate. So for theese poorer neighborhoods, the government (or state- not completely sure of logistics here, but whichever governing power dictates tax redistribution) should invest more into the development of schools in poorer neighborhoods so that the schools may be able to provide similar resources as those in wealthier neighborhoods. For example, my wealthy public school provides students with a college and career center, a tutorial center, a library that stays open before and after school, free or reduced priced meals, meals supplied even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, education to the college level, phenomenal teachers, and programs for first generation college students. Many poorer public schools could greatly benefit from such resources, as providing their students with meals and supporting their pursuit of higher education can ensure that students who want to learn are able to stay in school for as long as possible.

  2. Get rid of standardized tests. Standardized tests are a waste of time and money, and they're only indicative of a person's test taking abilities rather than their information retaining and problem solving capabilities. They set students from wealthier areas up for more success- I was only able to achieve a high score on the ACT after many months of preparation with a tutor, which is a luxury that many can't afford. Instead, while this is not a perfect solution, colleges should determine admissions based off of letters of recommendation, GPA, class choices, essays, and additional supplemental material that the student chooses to submit. Again, this isn't a perfect solution, but it evens the playing field slightly for the students who don't have the time and money to prepare for a standardized test like I did.

  3. Companies need to hire and promote employees by their qualifications and quality of work without impediment of their race, gender, sexuality, or other personal factors. In fact, if the company can afford to (and many can), it would be incredibly beneficial to have these choices made by artificial intelligence. In his book Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell illustrates a study indicating that AI is actually better judges of people's characters than people are, as a machine is immune to the damage a false impression may have on one's judgement. In Gladwell's description, he discusses a study that compared the success rates of AI versus that of a human judge in determining the probability that a guilty person would commit another crime. Long story short, the AI did significantly better than the human judge at identifying those who would commit crime again. This isn't surprising, considering machines are unable to discriminate unless they are programmed with the intent of fostering prejudice. With the help of nondiscriminatory machines, corporate America's glass ceiling can finally be broken, which would provid much better opportunities for BIPOC once they enter the workplace post graduation.

My conclusion: ACA-5 is a temporary fix for a longstanding problem, but it's not a permanent solution. Essentially, ACA-5 is a Band Aid on a wound that requires stitches. While ACA-5 is (maybe) a start, California should instead invest in an equitable distribution of educational resources and try to break the glass ceiling of corporate America to implement lasting change. Actionable equity over equality until people are no longer held back on the basis of identity.

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