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Racial Propositions

Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Racial Propositions
    Book Description:

    This book looks beyond the headlines to uncover the controversial history of California's ballot measures over the past fifty years. As the rest of the U.S. watched, California voters banned public services for undocumented immigrants, repealed public affirmative action programs, and outlawed bilingual education, among other measures. Why did a state with a liberal political culture, an increasingly diverse populace, and a well-organized civil rights leadership roll back civil rights and anti-discrimination gains? Daniel Martinez HoSang finds that, contrary to popular perception, this phenomenon does not represent a new wave of "color-blind" policies, nor is a triumph of racial conservatism. Instead, in a book that goes beyond the conservative-liberal divide, HoSang uncovers surprising connections between the right and left that reveal how racial inequality has endured. Arguing that each of these measures was a proposition about the meaning of race and racism, his deft, convincing analysis ultimately recasts our understanding of the production of racial identity, inequality, and power in the postwar era.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94771-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: “Genteel Apartheid”
    (pp. 1-12)

    In the 1990s, a series of controversial California ballot initiatives renewed a debate over the meaning and significance of race and racism in public life. Within a span of seven years, as the nation looked on, California voters passed propositions banning public education and public services for many immigrants (1994), repealing public affirmative action programs (1996), outlawing bilingual education (1998), and toughening criminal sentencing for adults and juveniles (1994, 2000).

    At first blush, California seemed an unlikely site to stage such contentious struggles. During most of the 1990s, California Democrats, traditional supporters of civil rights since the New Deal, held...

  5. 1. “We Have No Master Race”: Racial Liberalism and Political Whiteness
    (pp. 13-23)

    In January 1944, Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron announced the formation of the Los Angeles Committee for Home Front Unity to bring together leading political, civic, business, religious, and labor leaders. The committee would ensure that divisions pitting “creed against creed, race against race, color against color” did not undermine the wartime effort. “Unlike our enemy,” Bowron explained, “we have no master race.”¹

    Bowron’s pronouncement echoed the calls of dozens of other civic unity, “human relations,” and “fair play” organizations across the state and around the country during this period; Los Angeles alone was home to twelve such organizations or...

  6. 2. “Racial and Religious Tolerance Are Highly Desirable Objectives”: Fair Employment and the Vicissitudes of Tolerance, 1945-1960
    (pp. 24-52)

    In October 1946, voters across Southern California received letters from a recently formed group called the Committee for Tolerance alerting them to a threat that would “arouse intolerance, disunity and hatred” across the state.¹ In the immediate aftermath of the war, calls for “tolerance” often summoned nationalist allegiances to defend a shared commitment to acceptance in the face of despotism and fanaticism, a civic creed forged in the crucible of national crisis. The letter’s recipients might have presumed any number of issues had propelled an organization dedicated to tolerance to issue such an alert: Perhaps it was another proclamation from...

  7. 3. “Get Back Your Rights!” Fair Housing and the Right to Discriminate, 1960-1972
    (pp. 53-90)

    Six weeks before the 1964 presidential election,Timemagazine reported on a California ballot initiative that was proving to be “the most bitterly fought issue in the nation’s most populous state,” interest in which overshadowed “that of such relatively piddling contests as the one between Johnson and Goldwater.”¹ Indeed, as an onslaught of billboards, television and radio debates, media coverage, handbills, and neighborhood meetings and rallies ensured, few California voters that fall could escape the spell of Proposition 14. Crafted by the California Real Estate Association (CREA), the six-sentence constitutional amendment sought to exempt the real estate industry, apartment owners,...

  8. 4. “We Love All Kids”: School Desegregation, Busing, and the Triumph of Racial Innocence, 1972-1982
    (pp. 91-129)

    On first glance, the two ballot initiatives adopted by large majorities of California voters in the 1970s to halt mandatory school desegregation seem to be products of the same political imagination. Both the 1972 Wakefield Amendment (Proposition 21) and the 1979 Robbins Amendment (Proposition 1) were sponsored by controversial, sometimes combative Southern California lawmakers determined to stop the progress of courtordered school desegregation that relied upon student reassignment and busing. Both measures were implicitly grounded in assertions of “racial innocence”—the claim that because white parents and students did not create the second-class schools to which most nonwhite students were...

  9. 5. “How Can You Help Unite California?” English Only and the Politics of Exclusion, 1982-1990
    (pp. 130-159)

    The leaders of the organization U.S. English could barely contain their excitement following their meeting in the spring of 1983 with Paul Gann. Gann’s reputation as one of the state’s foremost ballot-initiative strategists rose quickly after his role in passing Proposition 13, the 1978 property tax– slashing measure. The following year, he qualified and passed a measure to limit government-spending growth, and in 1982 he won approval for a Victim’s Bill of Rights initiative to toughen criminal sentencing guidelines. To U.S. English’s delight, the seventy-one-year-old Gann offered to counsel the group in qualifying an “English Only” initiative for an upcoming...

  10. 6. “They Keep Coming!” The Tangled Roots of Proposition 187
    (pp. 160-200)

    On January 5, 1994, readers of theLos Angeles Timesopened their morning paper to a front-page article on the status of several initiative petitions attempting to qualify for the upcoming primary and general elections. A lagging economy, reticent donors, and the lack of substantive issues, experts agreed, had slowed the number of initiatives likely to qualify to a trickle. While some twenty initiative petitions were still in circulation, theTimesexplained, “virtually all of them appear to lack significant political and financial support.” “It’s a bleak year,” declared Mike Arno, of American Petition Consultants. His firm’s effort to qualify...

  11. 7. “Special Interests Hijacked the Civil Rights Movement”: Affirmative Action and Bilingual Education on the Ballot, 1996-2000
    (pp. 201-242)

    In 1997, on the thirty-fourth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, a smaller but similarly spirited crowd joined Rev. Jesse Jackson in a procession across the Golden Gate Bridge. This March to Save the Dream also coincided with the first day of the implementation of Proposition 209, a ballot measure approved the previous November banning public affirmative action programs in California. Together with the 1994 passage of Proposition 187 and the Three Strikes initiative, and with a signature-gathering effort underway to ban public bilingual...

  12. 8. “Dare We Forget the Lessons of History?” Ward Connerly’s Racial Privacy Initiative, 2001-2003
    (pp. 243-263)

    California’s October 2003 gubernatorial recall election will be remembered by most observers for the colorful cast of 135 candidates seeking to unseat incumbent governor Gray Davis and for the ascent of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a campaign that seemed at once riveting and absurd.¹ But a similarly provocative if less spectacular political debate unfolded in the shadows of the recall’s drama. Ward Connerly, the Black conservative who led the Proposition 209 campaign to victory in 1996, sponsored the Racial Privacy Initiative, a ballot measure to prevent state and local agencies from collecting or classifying most race and ethnicity data about California’s...

  13. Conclusion: Blue State Racism
    (pp. 264-274)

    The norms of racial liberalism—expressed through commitments to “rights,” “opportunity,” “tolerance,” “freedom,” and related signifiers—now constitute the dominant framework through which racial issues are publicly deliberated in California. The price of admission to credibly enter such debates is a recognition and acceptance of such ideals.

    How then can one account for the fate of the ballot measures chronicled in this book? As a growing number of Californians seemed to steadily embrace the norms of racial liberalism, the state’s electorate passed ballot measures that civil rights advocates warned would strengthen the boundaries of segregation and heighten levels of racial...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 275-278)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 279-328)
  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 329-346)
  17. Index
    (pp. 347-372)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-375)