California's Proposition 209 and Texaco Inc. a conflict of interests

The 1970s was the "me" decade, the 1980s was the "money" decade, and now, the 1990s is what I call the "remember" decade. Retro music and outdated fashions became the craze, and family values made a "comeback." All that was great before is good enough to revisit. However, with the passage of Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, and what was recently revealed from the upper echelon of Texaco Inc., I would call the 1990s the "trying to forget" decade.

California's Proposition 209 would amend the state constitution by prohibiting the state government from utilizing affirmative action programs. The proposition passed with a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. According to the University of California provos t, Judson King, the nine UC campuses will no longer consider race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as factors for undergraduate admissions - to be effective immediately. The same will be true for financial aid programs that draw from state funds. In contrast, the California State University chancellor, Barry Munitz, said he will wait until after the measure is evaluated in the courts before he makes any changes.

At Texaco Inc. four senior executives were taped using racial slurs and contemplating destroying evidence in a class action, racial discrimination case filed in 1994. The executives were taped by a former senior personnel coordinator who was dismissed in August of this year. The four executives were taped discussing just what the class action suit was targeting; African American employees were being denied promotions because of race and their salaries were comparatively lower. Texaco Inc.'s chairman, Pete r Bijur, issued a public apology, but additional suits have been filed, and a criminal investigation will be launched.

What Proposition 209 and the Texaco incident remind me of is that we forget what we should always remember. That is, there are people who would deny another an opportunity simply because they are perceived as different. People of color and women are held to a different standard, and those who would forward such a standard must be kept in check. We have laws to keep them in check. Proposition 209 and the Texaco remarks tell us that some see no need for the laws, while others believe that the law does not a pply to them.

The passage of Proposition 209 is an attempt to suggest to us that what has happened in the past, racial discrimination and denied opportunities, are now forgotten practices. Yet, Texaco Inc. executives remind us that Proposition 209 misses the mark. Insi dious, backdoor and boardroom discrimination, a phenomena that I have written about many times in this column, is alive and well. To what extent it exists in other corporations can only be speculated, but you can be sure that it remains.

Discriminatory police activity was a constant cry from the African American community. A manifestation of that brutality was caught on tape as Rodney King was violently apprehended in Semi Valley, Calif. Many viewed the tape as lending credibility to what was believed to be an exaggeration by the African American community, and at the least, would shed some light on the subject. But what followed effectively ignored those cries for help, forgetting what this videotape meant to an oppressed community. The riots of April 1992 was a reminder that you cannot ignore cries for help.

In a similar manner, the proponents for affirmative action have clamored and shrieked at the thought of ending opportunity programs, for racial and gender discrimination has not weakened nor waned. The voters for Proposition 209 have ignored those cries a nd have forgotten why these programs were put in place. The Texaco Inc. executives should be a painful reminder of the mistake they made.

David H. Benton is a third-year law student, member of the ASUA President's Cabinet and Arizona Students' Association board member. His column, 'Another Perspective,' appears Tuesdays.