“Sucks you have to put down you’re Asian,” a classmate told me my senior year while I was applying for colleges. “It’s going to be so much harder for you to get in.”
It’s a sentiment I’ve been hearing for years, and one that came onto the national stage last month, when the Department of Justice backed a lawsuit from students claiming Harvard University’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian-American students. It’s a move by the Trump administration's Justice Department to end affirmative action, which has been backed by white conservatives for years, and more recently, small groups of Asian Americans.
Ironically, Asian Americans are cast aside in the debate over affirmative action on both sides. Asian Americans are diverse in more ways than one — there are Chinese immigrants who have been here since the Chinese Exclusion Act, South Asians (or ‘my kind of Asian,’ as was told to me more than once), Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. There is also diversity in the significant disparities between the highest and lowest-earning Asians, despite Asians being one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the country.
Being stripped of an individual identity makes us easy political pawns, especially in the affirmative action debate.
Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times that highlights how our ‘model minority’ label is exploited by both conservatives and liberals. It’s a stereotype that my own family fits into.
On the right, there’s my father, a true conservative who built up his own business without government aid. He's diligent, hard-working and a ‘family man.’ And then there’s the identity that’s been cast onto me, a second-generation American, by progressives, “the liberal coalition's noblest group — willing to put solidarity with fellow minorities above the economic concerns that might tempt them rightward.”
The ‘model minority’ myth unfairly stereotypes Asians and pits minorities against each other, particularly with black Americans. Driving this wedge between minorities may be an attempt by the administration to move Asians to the right, under the false sense that ending affirmative action will aid Asian Americans the most.
Honestly, I still don’t have a clear stance on affirmative action, and it’s something I’ve been debating since I was applying for college. Of course, I support diversifying college campuses, and African Americans (who we’re most often pitted against) have faced systematic racism in this country that continues to this day, on a scale that Asian immigrants haven't experienced.
Yet I still get flashbacks to my junior year of high school, struggling to get a math ACT score that would hold up to the Asian-American stereotype. And many who support affirmative action forget about the vast income inequality within Asians — why should poorer Asians be held up to the same racial stereotypes as their wealthier counterparts?
It’s unjust to end affirmative action until all inequalities in the American school system are erased. That means pouring more funding into schools, supporting social programs outside of the classroom and supporting measures to end gun violence in communities. There are many ways to reform the college admissions process, but speaking for Asian Americans isn’t one of them.
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