By Sam Cho
Board of Directors, Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Empowerment Commissioner with the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs
History is repeating itself on affirmative action. Except this time, it feels different. Perhaps it’s because of the national attention around the lawsuit against Harvard. Or maybe it’s because Washington state is wrestling with its own version of the debate around the repeal of I-200.
But once again, the discourse around affirmative action has been hijacked to be about how race-conscious policies are hurting Asian Americans.
One thing is for certain: If the debate on affirmative action is going to be centered around Asian Americans, it is incumbent upon us to take control of that discourse.
The tokenization of Asian Americans to serve as a talking point for conservatives in their case against affirmative action has many problems. For one, our community is not monolithic. We are a diverse group of over 50 ethnicities and 300 languages. So who are they really referring to when they say affirmative action hurts Asian Americans? To paint Asian Americans with such a broad brush is an injustice in itself, especially to the Southeast Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who are often forgotten in these debates.
In reality, the debate around affirmative action is far more nuanced, and for an informed opinion on the issue, we must remember why these policies were created in the first place — to bring balance to a system that perpetuates institutionalized inequality, to even the playing field for disadvantaged people of color, and to promote diversity in our institutions.
The fact is, affirmative action goes far beyond college admissions. It has implications for small businesses, government contracts, and even access to social and healthcare programs.
As a community that has a large group of first generation immigrant small business owners and faces disproportionate health risks for diseases like hepatitis B, diabetes, and stomach cancer, it would be a mistake to be against race-conscious policies. So instead of fighting over whether or not we should have race-conscious policies at all, we should be talking about how these policies can be tailored to better serve our communities. Defending these policies while looking out for the interest of our own community is not mutually exclusive.
In truth, this insidious debate sheds light on a more fundamental problem of how Asian Americans are perceived in today’s America. The model minority myth is dangerous precisely because the perceived success of a few seem to outweigh the struggles of the many. In other words, affirmative action in itself isn’t the problem. America’s perception of Asian Americans is.
It’s important to note that we want our community to succeed. Our hard work should be rewarded. But at the same time, we cannot be disillusioned and we must come to terms with the harsh reality that no matter how much we “succeed,” we cannot become white or adopt the privileges of being white. Therefore, we must resist the urge to become the mascots of a conservative movement aimed at preserving white privilege by way of dismantling race-conscious policies.
More importantly, our success as a community should not come at the expense of other communities of color. We should not be willing to step over our Black and Latinx brothers and sisters to get ahead. Instead, we should be locking arms to make sure we all move forward together.
History is repeating itself on affirmative action.
At a time when we have a president in the Oval Office who refuses to stand up for communities of color, the vulnerable, or the disadvantaged, we cannot become the wedge that divides communities of color. Now more than ever, we must stand in solidarity.
Sally Lou says
What an ill logic of author here that Asian American immigrants who are only fighting against Affirmative Action for their basic constitutional equal education employment rights being labeled by author as preserving white privilege??? Or the author should create a new word called “Asian Privilege” except these Asians Immigrants who came here had to overcome all the barriers such as language/culture/finance, they have to work so hard to meet much higher standards set for them on admission & hiring simply because of their race being “over represented”. And please don’t forget “Chinese Exclusion Act” was a much more recent historical event if you are going about social justice for victimized race route.
Hudong Wang says
For one, our community is not monolithic. We are a diverse group of over 50 ethnicities and 300 languages. So who are they really referring to when they say affirmative action hurts Asian Americans?
Liberals are treat asian as one and AA is hurting all asian as they are calling asians as “over presented”
Henry Chow says
As a community that has a large group of first generation immigrant small business owners and faces disproportionate health risks for diseases like hepatitis B …
WTF !!!!! So you want to stick a hepatitis B disease to certain race ???? So you want a policy saying, “hey, this guy is from an Asian race XX, they are more likely to have hepatitis B disease, so please give them a special consideration in food/restaurants?” Next time if you go to a restaurant with an Asian race XX, what do you think? He/she is XXX race and probably with a hepatitis B???
John Lee says
Being Asians does not qualify anyone as representation of Asian immigrants. Or I would say that since Mr. Cho is not from southeast Asia, does not belong to that ethnic group and cannot speak the language thus he is no representation of people from that area.
I am deeply troubled by the lack of logical consistency in this article, calling for special attention for low income, health risks, and tough living conditions and challenge anyone who dare to make their life better as building our success at the expense of other communities of color. Calling for locking arms with other people of color and emphasize the difference and division among Asian community is as incoherent and illogical as it can be.