I do not know about you, but until very recently, I thought our country had progressed beyond a time when our citizens overtly discriminated by race. Gone are racially segregated schools, bathrooms, drinking fountains, hotels and restaurants. A good number of our citizens today are too young to remember those bygone days, but I lived through many of them.
My father had passed away and it was 1952. I was only 10 years old when my mother, brother and I moved to Florida for a year. As a New Yorker, I vividly remember being confused when Black people would step off the curb as we walked by.
Then a short time later, my mother remarried, and after another year back in New York, we left on a Route 66 road trip to Los Angeles. We arrived in the San Fernando Valley, only to find some property owners would not rent to Jews. Even after moving to Santa Clarita in 1965, I was greeted by a card-carrying KKK member who warned about how difficult it would be for me, and my family, to be accepted here.
At least work was a different story. By 1980, I had worked up to being a department manager, and was tasked with starting a new software engineering department. Over the next 15 years, I hired at least 50 engineers. I became very aware of the criteria, and formulas, wage and salary used to make my prospective employees an offer, and they were very consistent. Consideration was provided for levels of education and related experience, without any regard to gender, race, ethnicity or religion.
By the early 1990s, affirmative action was in full bloom, and I remember being called to the Equal Opportunity Office for a discussion about my hiring practices. To my surprise, I was told I had the most diverse work group in the company, and they wanted to know how I did it. My answer floored them, when I replied, “I do not try. I need engineers to meet the department’s needs, so I interview for a predetermined amount of time, and then hire who I feel is the most qualified. My success criteria do not include race or gender.”
But the discussion about diversity did start me thinking. After that, every time I would enter a work area or travel to another customer facility, I would look around and if I did not see a diverse staff, I would ponder who put the team together, and then keep my ears open to find out what I might learn. It left such an indelible mark on my psyche; I still do it today.
Yet, this was all happening about the same time my eldest son was ready for college, and we ran head-on into “affirmative action” and California state college racial quotas. It was hard for my son to understand why he was not being given a fair shot. He had done nothing wrong, and from my perspective, this was my first experience with “Institutional Racism.”
Wikipedia defines: “Institutional racism is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other issues.”
Notice the definition is not specific to any individual race, and I believe any person who hires, fires, accepts or rejects an individual based on race, is a “racist.” But soon, California voters came to the rescue, and in 1996 passed Proposition 209, which prohibited discrimination “based on race, gender or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Unfortunately, the story does not end there. In November, your ballot will include Proposition 16, which if passed, will repeal Proposition 209, and bring “institutional racism” back to our California government and colleges, by allowing for special considerations be given to certain individuals based on gender and race.
I urge a NO vote on Proposition 16, because equal and fair treatment, should be dealt out solely on merit, not the color of a person’s skin. But of course, it will be your choice.
Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.