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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.

October 24, 2006

Written by C.N.

Debate Continues on Affirmative Action

Debates relating to affirmative action seem to be heating up again. This fall, voters in Michigan will vote on a ballot initiative that would prohibit the use of race or gender in university admissions. In this context, how Asian Americans fit into the equation is also still being debated. As printed at Diverse Issues in Education Magazine, one commentary notes that Asian Americans tend to be consistently portrayed in biased ways regarding how affirmative action affects them:

Real discrimination against Asian Americans is whitewashed, and they are used for strategic purposes to attack other people of color. Ironically, groups that proclaim their belief in color-blindness show themselves readily able to be color-conscious in the most divisive manner. They have no problem pointing at Asian Americans if it suits their cause.

It is this cynicism that has led many Asian Americans who have studied affirmative action to become advocates for it. Law professor Sumi Cho observes that demagogues are trying to turn Asian Americans into “racial mascots” to camouflage an agenda that, if presented by Whites on their own behalf, would look too much like naked self-interest. Law professor Mari Matsuda proclaimed in a famous speech given to the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, “We will not be used.”

The commentary references an earlier study, about which I previously posted, that documents the real problem facing Asian Americans — that we are not victims of affirmative action per se, but of plain and simple racial discrimination. That is, Asian American college applicants tend to be held to a higher standard than other applicants for no apparent, justifiable reason.

To prove that point, the study showed that once affirmative action was ended in California, Texas, and Washington, the number of Asian American law school students actually declined, rather than increased as many anti-affirmative action supporters believed. In this context, the real “winners” of ending affirmative action would not be Asian Americans, but Whites since they enjoy other advantages such as legacy clauses that many other applicants don’t.

As a supporter of affirmative action, I hope that ballot initiatives like Michigan’s are defeated. At the same time, the other necessary step is to ensure that Asian American applicants are judged by the same criteria as Whites and other students, rather than being subjected to arbitrarily elevated standards. Finally and at the very least, anti-affirmative action supporters need to stop using Asian Americans as spokespeople because the data clearly does not justify doing so.


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

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Debate Continues on Affirmative Action" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/10/debate-continues-on-affirmative-action/> ().

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