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From Bad to Worse - After Proposition 209: Confronting Electoral Xenophobia

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The political climate that has given rise to Proposition 209, the newly-enacted anti-affirmative action amendment to California's state constitution, extends far beyond this state's boundaries.

Issue #29, November 1996


The political climate that has given rise to Proposition 209, the newly-enacted anti-affirmative action amendment to California's state constitution, extends far beyond this state's boundaries. Proposition 209 reflects a national climate where social xenophobia has been legitimated through a broad range of measures: anti-welfare legislation aimed at inner-city people of color, numerous anti-immigrant strictures, denial of once-public services to 'outsiders,' and more. During the recent US election campaign both major political parties employed xenophobia as a rhetorical tool. One party emphasized its militarization of the US-Mexican border; the other suggested subversion of the electoral process by Asian-American influence. Both blatant and subtle, a language of ethnic fear has gained new force.

The spirit of antagonism that motivates Proposition 209 has come to characterize an ever-larger share of this nation's political discourse. Because American-style market capitalism serves as a post-Cold War global model, the individualistic norms it employs to justify social greed have set a transnational standard. Where the indefensible accumulation of economic and social power has become an acceptable feature of the political landscape, measures like Proposition 209 — and worse — are continually emerging. Proposition 209 embodies an egregious attempt to appropriate the language of equality by those opposed to equality, and their success in California will encourage similar efforts elsewhere in the United States and beyond.

Bad Subjects rejects self-privileging for the already-privileged; we reject xenophobia seeking legitimization; we reject stifling social insularity. We affirm a commitment to economic egalitarianism and communal cooperation, and recognize affirmative action as an initial means of ensuring opportunity for women and people of color who have been historically denied equal opportunity. It is absurd and counterfactual to claim, as have Proposition 209's proponents, that discrimination on the basis of race and gender no longer exists and needs neither institutional balancing nor sensitivity.

We recognize that Bad Subjects itself must work to incorporate the social practice of diversity that it endorses. The 'practical utopianism' of the Bad Subjects project can only benefit from a renewed affirmation of openness to diversity. The Bad Subjects Collective has sought to examine and challenge the power relations that Proposition 209 fosters, and expresses its opposition to the social assault and divisions that the measure has initiated. We identify this measure for what it is: yet another attack on progress towards gender and racial/ethnic equalities, and yet another attempt to maintain current class divisions.

Those opposed to Proposition 209 will find various means to resist it, both overtly and by quietly reclaiming the meaning of the word 'diversity.' However, the success of electoral xenophobia ultimately can only be temporary, for women, minorities and the queer community will never be forced into the shadows again. We shall not return to powerlessness and invisibility.


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