Culture

Asian-Americans Complicate the Affirmative Action Narrative

The concept has been bastardized to promote a spoils system that makes a complete mockery of the word "equal."

Arnold Ahlert · Aug. 10, 2017

“The purpose of affirmative action is to promote social equality through the preferential treatment of socioeconomically disadvantaged people. Often, these people are disadvantaged for historical reasons like years of oppression or slavery.” —HG.org, a legal resource website

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925. It included a provision instructing government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 adding sex to the list, and again requiring federal contractors to promote the full realization of equal opportunity for women and minorities via affirmative action.

Since then, the concept has been bastardized to promote a spoils system that makes a complete mockery of the word “equal” — as in the “equal protection of the laws” ostensibly guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

Thus, progressive heads are exploding with regard to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times. It reveals the Justice Department is seeking attorneys willing to explore “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.” The Times initially insisted this project is aimed at “suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”

Wrong. As DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores put it, the DOJ is pursuing a complaint filed in May 2015 by a coalition of 64 Asian-American groups against an unnamed university. Since such a coalition filed a federal complaint against Harvard in 2015 alleging racial discrimination, it’s safe to say the Ivy League school is in the DOJ’s crosshairs.

The most problematic aspect of the case for the nation’s progressive quota-mongers? One minority group is challenging allegedly preferential treatment given to other minority groups.

It doesn’t get more disruptive of the affirmative action narrative than that.

One might be forgiven for noticing that in virtually all leftist diatribes about the victimization of minorities — diatribes that inevitably include excoriating America for its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and numerous other race-based evils — Asian-Americans are rarely part of the mix. Perhaps it’s because the culture of victimhood the American Left has successfully inculcated in many black and Hispanic communities is largely rejected by Asian-Americans, who do not view government’s thumb on the scale as a prerequisite for their success. Even more problematic, they are unencumbered by America’s slave-owning legacy progressives use to induce guilt and justify their quota schemes.

Thus, in an effort to keep the narrative alive, CNN insists the Trump administration’s real motive is to “play to a conservative base that has long abhorred practices that offer a boost to racial minorities, potentially at the expense of whites.”

In the last 30 years, the Supreme Court has wrestled with the issue on several occasions, ruling three times that race can be used as a “factor” with regard to admissions. In the most recent case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Court ruled 4-3 in favor of such programs, provided universities present strong evidence they are narrowly tailored to achieve the goal of diversity by “ensuring that race plays no greater role than is necessary to meet its compelling interest,” Kennedy wrote for a majority.

What, exactly, constitutes compelling interest? As dissenting Justice Samuel Alito noted, UT didn’t offer any evidence about how much race factors into admission decisions, whether its plan placed more minority students in classrooms that ostensibly lacked diversity, or why its plan favors black American and Latino students, even as it appears to damage the prospects of Asian-Americans. Alito wrote, “By accepting UT’s rationales as sufficient to meet its burden, the majority licenses UT’s perverse assumptions about different groups of minority students — the precise assumptions strict scrutiny is supposed to stamp out.”

Two University of Michigan cases from 2003 also highlight the institutional acrobatics used to justify quotas. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court struck down the use of a mathematical-based admissions system that awarded extra points to minority candidates — simply for being minorities. But in Grutter v. Bollinger, it upheld the law school’s supposedly more individualized review, because it served “a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

Yet what, exactly, are those benefits, and how are they quantified? Several studies have asserted that diversity provokes more innovative thinking and better group performance in a variety of settings. Yet how such conclusions are reached in the absence of a “control group” suggests politics trumps science.

Thus we are left with the dubious proposition that diversity is beneficial … because to assert otherwise constitutes bigotry.

Yet the cases SCOTUS and other courts have adjudicated revolved around minorities versus whites. By focusing on Asian-American complaints against Harvard, the DOJ is taking a sledgehammer to the presumption that racial quotas are a reasoned response to “white privilege.”

As The Wall Street Journal explains, the percentage of Asian students admitted to Harvard has remained around 20% since 1993, despite the fact that the Asian share of the U.S. population “has increased rapidly.” The paper further notes Asian representation is much higher at University of California campuses — where the use of race as an admissions factor was banned in the 1990s.

Yet the real discrimination is found in the race-based approach to Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. “All else being equal,” the paper reveals, “an Asian-American must score 140 points higher on the SAT than a white counterpart, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student, and 450 points higher than a black applicant, according to 2009 research from Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and co-author Alexandria Walton Radford.”

Harvard insists its “holistic” approach negates that disparity. Yet if that’s the case, how does it explain that legacy students — children of former students — are two to three times more likely to be admitted than students whose parents didn’t attend Harvard?

“There is a version of affirmative action — legal, generally popular and arguably more meritocratic — that higher education has not yet even tried,” wrote columnist Dave Leonhardt in 2012. Leonhardt revealed economically disadvantaged students “receive either no preference or a modest one, depending on which study you believe.”

It shouldn’t take a study to figure out what merits genuine consideration in college admissions. The same public that despises race-based admissions heartily favors giving a break to low-income students and those whose parents didn’t attend college.

Would economics-based affirmative action mollify the bean-counters? In a column for Diverse Issues in Education, Emil Guillermo asserts Asian students are being used as proxies for whites in the battle to dismantle affirmative action. Like so many progressives, he recognizes the mortal threat of affirmative action litigation that doesn’t include a Caucasian component.

It will be fascinating to see how people whose power depends on the continued cultivation of minority group grievances against an “endemically” racist white majority manage to cope.

Right now, “holistic,” in all its intentionally ambiguous glory, appears to be the linguistic tool progressives will use to maintain race-based quotas in college admissions.

If that fails? Perhaps “Asian privilege” will become part of the progressive lexicon.

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