“California and the End of White America,” in Commentary (November 1999), 165 East 56th Street, New York, New York 10022.
Though no longer a majority whites have historically been politically dominant in California. As a result, observes Unz, an entrepreneur and political activist, California’s political battles over race are a bellwether of “how our larger political world is likely to evolve as Americans of European ancestry fall into minority status during the first half of the next century!
Unz examines three California initiatives: Proposition 187, a 1994 mandate that ended most social services to illegal immigrants; Proposition 209, a 1996 measure that ended affirmative action programs in state colleges and universities; and Proposition 227, which in 1998 abolished mandatory bilingual education in public schools. According to Unz, Proposition 187 was a divisive measure that prompted vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats. Although she ultimately opposed Proposition 187, Democrat Dianne Feinstein won her race for the Senate by calling for both a national identity card and mandatory fingerprinting as ways of combating illegal immigration. Latino foes of 187 staged a massive march through Los Angeles which did little to help their cause: Television footage showing angry Latinos marching behind foreign flags “seemed confirm the worst suspicions of white Californians that they were losing control, of their state to unassimilable aliens.”
Propositions 209 and 227, by contrast, were more constructive measures Initially, Asians supported the effort to end affirmative action while Latinos remained neutral. But the underfunded supporters of the measure nearly lost when the California Republican Party subsumed backing of the proposition into a get-out-the-vote drive for Bob Dole. These Republican moves caused Reagan Democrats to switch sides, ensuring that Proposition 209 only passed by a 54 to 46 percent margin.
Supporters of Proposition 227, including Unz, insisted that their committee be bipartisan and multiracial. They enlisted many Latino parents frustrated that their children were not learning English, and benefited from a split between Latino leaders and the teachers’ unions. Though its supporters were outspent by 25 to one, Proposition 227 passed by a large margin. Within a year, enrollment in California bilingual education classes fell by 90 percent.
The stories of the three propositions, Unz argues, shows that politicians should avoid both immigrant-bashing and government policies that promote racial balkanization. “A social policy that allots to blacks and Latinos and Asians their own separate institutions cannot long be prevented from extending itself to whites as well, especially as whites become one minority among many minorities.”