The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established the principle of equal protection of the laws. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination on the ground of race, color or national origin. Reflecting the spirit of the U.S. Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Proposition 209 amended the California constitution to ban the state from discriminating against or granting 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, and public contracting. In California, any new legislations or public programs impacting the aforementioned three areas must strictly observe the U.S. and state constitutions as well as civil rights legal precedents.
In November 2020, over 9.5 million California voters (57.2% of the electorate) soundly rejected the preferential treatment ballot measure Proposition 16 in spite of the measure’s popularity among the state’s political and economic elites. The No on 16 campaign stood on the shoulders of civil rights giants and featured a new generation of American leaders of Asian descent at the movement’s epicenter. Nationwide, Americans of Asian descent, many first-generation immigrants, have coalesced around the issue of equal education rights and led initiatives to push back endemic discrimination in education from coast to coast. To which extent have political calculations, cultural (mis)perceptions and history affected this movement? Why have Americans of Asian descent, this country’s smallest minority group traditionally weak in political and civic participation, become increasingly vocal and efficient in mobilizing for this cause?
If race-based public policies are detrimental to the American public, what other viable options do we have? Can we combine need-based affirmative action with school choice and best practices? And if these options are empirically sound, how do we engineer power-sharing arrangement among different stakeholders and mitigate the short-term political backlash to make them politically feasible? How do we turn the American education into a success story for all and revive the American Dream? “No narrow, vested interests of adults, whether financial, political, or ideological, should be allowed to block that,” Thomas Sowell.
Around the world, a handful of countries have enacted government policies and programs to increase representation of historically excluded groups in areas such as education and employment. While the nature and scope of such programs defer from country to country, the phrase “affirmative action” has been coined as an umbrella term. How effective have various affirmative action programs around the world been in improving the lot of the underprivileged and historically marginalized? What are the political, social, and economic outcomes of these programs in varying contexts?