Asian Americans for Affirmative Action
There are two sides to every point of view and this is the side of Asian Americans who are in favor of Affirmative Action. Which side are you on? This article is from The Nation. The full article is here. Bullet points below.
- Sunday’s NYT Education supplement ran a cover story by Timothy Egan about Asian Americans and affirmative action. Focusing on UC Berkeley — where Asians have grown to 41% of the student body since Proposition 209 banned racial preferences in 1997 — Egan observes that the end of affirmative action and the implementation of a “pure meritocracy” in admissions spells hugely disproportionate numbers of Asians at elite colleges and drastic shortages of Hispanics and African Americans. Berkeley, he concludes somewhat ominously, is the future of higher education.
- Asian Americans comprise roughly 5% of the US population but represent anywhere from 13-40% of undergraduates at many top schools: 27% at MIT, 24% at Stanford, 17% at UT Austin, 13% at Columbia, 37% in the UC system as a whole and so forth. In contrast, only 3.6% of Berkeley’s freshman class are African American and only 11% are Hispanic — way below state population levels.
- Egan’s right about the numbers, but he misses the mark on many other measures. First, he underplays the differences between “brain drain” Asian Americans and more recent, less affluent, less educated Asian immigrants.
- Egan cites a 2005 study by Thomas J. Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung that finds that, without affirmative action, Asians (and not whites) would fill the vast majority (80%) of spots reserved for African Americans and Hispanics at elite universities.
- …despite the possibility that Asian Americans may be the group most “disadvantaged” by affirmative action, they consistently, vigorously and overwhelmingly support it at the polls.
- Why do we continue to support a policy that apparently “harms” us? One answer is that it doesn’t, at least not always and not equally. Connerly and his minions — who have anti-affirmative action initiatives brewing in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska — have focused their message almost exclusively on admissions, and not on public employment and state contracts, even though affirmative action applies to those arenas as well, arenas in which Asian Americans are often underrepresented.
- But racial group interest aside, I have a hunch that Asian Americans support affirmative action because the legacy of discrimination against Asians — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Japanese internment to the crucifixion of Wen Ho Lee to post-9/11 roundups of brown folk — is seared into our collective memory.
- The last question I’ll raise is: What’s up with white people? If abolishing affirmative action would gain whites little in the admissions game (and then mostly to the ruling class of whites) and if Asian Americans reap most of the benefits of what Egan calls a “pure meritocracy,” then why is it that only white people as a group vote to end affirmative action?
- If Berkeley is indeed the future of America, then neither maintaining nor abolishing affirmative action will preserve this American future as a white refuge. But keeping (and restoring) affirmative action will provide, however imperfectly, space for not just the yellow, but also for the brown, the red and the black.