Taking on the initiatives: Straight talk about 187 and 209
BY DIANE MANUEL
Personal stories illuminated the professional perspectives that panelists brought to the "California Summit on Race" held at Kresge Auditorium on Jan. 30.
- Henry Der, deputy superintendent
with the California Department of Education, said he was shocked to
find that his son hangs out almost exclusively with friends of his
own racial background at college.
- Ronald Takaki, a one-time surfer
from Hawaii and now a professor of ethnic studies at the University
of California-Berkeley, said he probably owed his career to a
teacher who had scribbled the word "insightful" in the margin of a
- Charles Geshekter, a professor of history at California State University-Chico, wondered aloud why he had followed the intellectual path he had from an Orthodox Jewish upbringing to a doctorate from predominantly black Howard University to become an authority on Muslim nomads of Somalia.
Hosted by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), the 12 panelists who launched the morning discussion and wrapped the late-afternoon session drew an audience of about 150 students, faculty, staff and area residents who drifted in and out of the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. event. The bookend panels addressed "Immigrants, Race Relations and the Impact of Proposition 187" and "In the Wake of Proposition 209: Race and Opportunity in California."
As he welcomed two representatives from President Clinton's "Initiative on Race" to the summit, Al Camarillo, Stanford professor of history and director of CCSRE, said that issues of exclusion and inequality of opportunity "still represent a cancer eating at the heart of American democratic society."
Camarillo added that the discussion was intended to be "open and frank" and provide "accurate information" so that speakers and listeners alike could be more responsible citizens. He encouraged audience members to join the dialogue by jotting down questions on yellow forms they were given and handing the slips to ushers who circulated throughout the day with baskets dangling from their arms.
The opening panel looked at the impact of Proposition 187, which sought to deny benefits to illegal immigrants but was invalidated by a court ruling last fall. William King, executive vice president of Americans for Responsible Immigration, co-founder of the committee that wrote the ballot initiative and a former border-patrol official, said he was "deeply concerned" about the economic impact of increasing numbers of illegal immigrants and undocumented aliens in California.
"I believe, as do most Americans, that the numbers are too high," King said. "It's immoral that citizens of this state should be expected to pay the tab for people who have no right to be here."
Robert Corry, a graduate of Stanford Law School who challenged the university's speech policy in 1994 and now serves as a counsel to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, spoke about the high percentage of violent crimes committed by what he called "illegals." He also charged that foreign students are "taking the place of Americans at institutions of higher education in this state."
Ezola Foster, the third panelist who spoke on behalf of the aims of Proposition 187, said she had grown up in the segregated South, been a member of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and now was "an Americanist, without a party." The African American counselor for the Los Angeles Unified School District drew hisses from the audience when she charged that "multiculturalism is the worst thing that's ever happened to our children," alleging that it has divided the races.
Those who spoke against the aims of Proposition 187 included Bruce Cain, a professor from the University of California-Berkeley, who argued that ballot initiatives are not appropriate venues for "serious, deliberate dialogue" on issues of race. Der said he was "not hopeful" about finding solutions to "confounding" questions about race relations. But he added that under the administration of Superintendent of Schools Delaine Easton, all children would be guaranteed access to public schools.
The afternoon panel addressed California's Proposition 209, which was approved by voters in 1996 and eliminated affirmative action policies in state government.
Ron Takaki, author of the California Equity Initiative, and Constance Rice, western regional counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, called for a more thoughtful statewide and national discussion of affirmative action.
Takaki acknowledged that intellectual ground had been lost during the campaign for Proposition 209 and he called for a new theory of affirmative action that would "go against the grain of modernity" and the belief that merit can and should be measured quantitatively.
"Instruments used to measure merit are really not very precise," Takaki said. "How can you measure thoughtfulness? Or insightfulness?"
Rice said that because an initiative campaign like that waged on behalf of Proposition 209 requires "sloganeering, food fights and sound bites," it is not possible to have genuine conversations on racial issues "in a war arena." Instead, she called for "race-neutral strategies" aimed at reforming public schools and questioning institutional values.
Gail Herriot, co-chair of the Proposition 209 Committee and a professor of law at the University of California-San Diego, argued that Californians had "reached closure" with their approval of the ballot initiative. Characterizing affirmative action as a "failure," she voiced support for school vouchers, citing a Harvard University study of a voucher program in Milwaukee that was "going further than racial preferences ever had" in closing school test-score gaps.
Margie Fernandes, vice mayor of San Jose, said that a 1995 study of contracts awarded in that city showed that minority-owned businesses had lost access to $40 million worth of contracts. As a result of Mayor Susan Hammer's decision to take remedial steps to "correct the numbers," Fernandes said the city now is being sued.
"I'm not thinking very positively
these days," she added. "I don't see a lot of political courage."