Quota Quandary

As Proposition 209 seeks an end to affirmative action by state institutions, minority groups are conflicted

"When I was a kid, I saw a lot of my aunts and uncles come here from the Philippines. They worked hard. They had to suffer. They worked hard for what they've got."

Not surprisingly, minority men interviewed about their support of 209 tended to be more conservative than those who oppose it. Call any Latino or Asian conservative political group, for instance, and they'll report they are at least divided -- or unified in support of the initiative. Supporters also tend to be more affluent than opponents. Forty-four percent of minority men, however, hardly constitute a rich elite.

Among the Asian community, as has been documented elsewhere, many feel that affirmative action policies in education have worked against them for some time. At schools in the University of California system, Asians have been required to score higher on entrance requirements than other minorities, because their high acceptance rates meant they were not deemed "underrepresented."

Now UC is phasing out all of its affirmative action programs (a measure pushed through by 209 sponsor Connerly), so Asians will no longer be held to a higher standard than any other applicants. But many Asian men were left soured on the whole idea of affirmative action. "If you're better qualified, you should get the position regardless of race," says Ed Jew, chairman of the California Chinese-American Republican Association.

Not all of the members of Jew's conservative Chinese political organization, however, agree with him on 209. "It's a divisive issue within our group," he admits, "so we aren't taking an official stand on it."

The official stand reported by S.F.'s black leadership is strong. Community leaders are adamant that blacks oppose 209. Period.

Black men who support 209 are "one in a thousand," says Alex Pitcher, local president of the NAACP. "We think there's something wrong with them."

"We're not supporting that crap," says James Howard, president of the Black Republican Council of San Francisco. "Everyone that I've talked to understands what's going on, that [the initiative sponsors] have no reputation or track record of fighting for fairness and justice. It's a pretty disingenuous thing."

African-Americans questioned randomly in the Western Addition said they are against 209, although a few wondered aloud whether affirmative action helps advance blacks as much as it stigmatizes them.

Indeed, according to this month's Field Poll on 209, California blacks oppose the measure 52 percent to 25 percent with 23 percent undecided. Either the poll is wrong, or none of the 25 percent of blacks who supports 209 lives in San Francisco, or none will admit they support 209 except in a confidential poll.

Errol Smith, a black vice chairman of the Yes on Proposition 209 campaign who lives in Santa Clarita in Southern California, goes with the theory that black supporters of 209 live outside S.F. Last time he came here was for the UC Regents meeting at which the university's affirmative action programs were dismantled, and he was heckled by a huge crowd that had gathered to protest. "It's pretty liberal up there," he says. "I was run out of town on a rail."

Similarly, 209's opponents have pretty much dismissed Connerly as an Uncle Tom. But the not insignificant number of other minority men who support 209 are hardly acknowledged. When pressed, anti-209 manager Ewing insists that minority men who support 209 change their minds once the prospect of losing outreach, recruitment, and mentoring programs is described to them.

If there's any truth in that, she and her colleagues had better get talking. Fast.

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