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If You Dare to Discuss Racial Issues, Then You Are a Racist

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Last week, I appeared on San Francisco’s PBS station to talk about Prop. 209, the anti-affirmative action measure that has been California law for 18 years.

It’s back in the news as a brand new proposal, Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA5), which hopes to repeal Prop 209 and restore the use of race in public university admissions.

The TV moderator asked me if California needed affirmative action.

As a journalist who covers race and ethnicity, I can speak more freely than, say, a politician. Still, I gave what I thought to be a measured response.

“We need something,” I said, going on to say Prop.209 took away the tools we need to achieve the kind of racial balance in our public colleges and universities that reflect the state’s overall population.

After nearly a generation, the state is behind in its diversity goals, after voters were duped by some “colorblind” notion that we could reach the equity we seek by not talking about race.

In that sense, Prop. 209 was an absolute failure.

Whether we call it “affirmative action” or some other name, the state needs to be pro-active and allow for the use of race in admissions, as well as provide for greater educational investment and resources to achieve fairness and equity in higher ed.

Until that happens, Prop.209 has merely preserved the status quo.

In California’s UC system, it means Whites and Chinese Americans remain overly represented, and African-Americans, Latinos and Asian American subgroups remain underrepresented and have become practically invisible.

In order to achieve some resolution, the politics of fear must be avoided.

However, some groups, notably Chinese Americans who prefer the current system, are using intimidation and harassment tactics to scare off any politicians who might support SCA5, or anyone who dares to speak up for racial equity in higher ed.

They’ve even resorted to name-calling, throwing around the “R” word: racist.

It’s the taint spread by anti-affirmative action foes who want to kill SCA5.

Their logic? If you talk about race, you are a racist.

How’s that for a debate-killer.

But that’s the intention: Intimidation and censorship.

You could have guessed it was coming next, especially since anti-affirmative action foes tend to do things that they feel are in line with Dr. King’s famous phrase: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Funny how people can say the exact same words but be on totally opposite sides politically.

In 1996, Prop.209 advocates showed that by calling their anti-affirmative action effort the “civil rights initiative.” But that’s always been the strategy — confusing rhetoric, misinformation and intimidation to spread fear. Political standards, right? And now it’s all back in the fight to defeat SCA5.

If simply talking about race makes one racist, is there any doubt that MLK himself would today be branded a “racist” by some?

If that’s the case, in the continuing fight for diversity, we all should be honored to be “good” racists like MLK and support SCA5. It’s California’s effort to restore some sanity and logic in the race conversation.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him at or follow him on twitter at @emilamok.

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