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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

June 25, 2006

Written by C.N.

Latest Research on Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

When affirmative action was first implemented in the 1960s, Asian Americans generally benefited from it. In more recent years however, the consensus seems to be that affirmative action seems to hurt more Asian Americans than it helps. Now, a new study argues that it’s not really affirmative action that hurts Asian Americans, it’s actually just racial discrimination, pure and simple:

Kidder argues that the vast majority of the gains that Asian American applicants would see come from the elimination of “negative action,” not the opening up of slots currently used for affirmative action. Based on the data used by the Princeton study, Kidder argues that negative action is the equivalent of losing 50 points on the SAT. . . .

Kidder argues that all the references to growing Asian enrollments in a post-affirmative action world encourage a return to the “yellow peril” fear of people from Asia taking over. More broadly, he thinks Asian Americans in particular aren’t getting accurate information about the real cause of their perceived difficulties getting into competitive colleges.

Their obstacle, he says, isn’t affirmative action, but the discrimination Asian Americans experience by being held to higher standards than anyone else. He says that the differential standards appear to be growing and are similar in some ways to the way some Ivy League institutions limited Jewish enrollments in the first half of the 20th century.

“Whether an individual Asian American supports affirmative action or not, this is an independent problem, not because of affirmative action,” Kidder says.

As a supporter of affirmative action myself, I applaud Kidder’s research and interpretations — that it’s not affirmative action that hurts Asian Americans, but differential and discriminatory standards that are applied to them and not other groups. I should point out that in fact, his argument is the same that’s been advocated for years by Asian American scholars such as Don Nakanishi, Dana Takagi, Bill Ong Hing, Suchen Chan, and others.

The implication here is that eliminating affirmative action by itself is not likely to benefit Asian Americans much at all. Instead, the real causes of difficulties that many Asian American applicants face are unfair criteria that is applied only to them that artificially limit their numbers and that is where we need to focus our attention and actions.

I’m sure there will be plenty of Asian Americans who, even after reading these findings, will still vehemently argue that affirmative action is bad for Asian Americans and that we should oppose it. Unfortunately, affirmative action is one of those hotly controversial issues (along with abortion, illegal immigration, etc.) where individual beliefs frequently override data, statistics, and empirical research.

Hopefully this issue will gradually become more clear as more research like this is done to show what the real barriers are to Asian American educational attainment.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Latest Research on Asian Americans and Affirmative Action" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/06/latest-research-on-asian-americans-and-affirmative-action/> ().

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