On August 30, the Department of Justice chose to side with a coalition of Asian-American students who sued Harvard University, alleging that the university was discriminating against applicants based on race. The coalition argued that Harvard was ranking Asian-American applicants lower on applications in personality traits such as likeability, resulting in fewer Asian-Americans being accepted into Harvard. There has been much ink spilled on discrimination toward Asian-Americans in the Ivy Leagues, but that racism extends far beyond the elite colleges of the East Coast.
Harvard has long used race in the admissions process as part of a “holistic” review of a student applicant. The school has denied using racial quotas, but the plaintiffs argued the number of Asian-Americans accepted would be higher if race were not used as a factor. In fact, according to the lawsuit, the Asian-American population would“have risen to more than 26 percent.” The Justice Department, in its press release, agreed that Harvard “failed to show that it does not unlawfully discriminate against Asian Americans.”
But the deep flaws in Harvard’s acceptance system are merely the visible side effects from the years the United States has spent discriminating against Asians. Whether it is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the denial of naturalization for Indian-Americans, the U.S. has long inflicted racism on Asian-Americans.
Asian immigrants often face racism and xenophobia when they come here. Notions that they’re here to steal jobs from hard-working Americans or to birth so-called “anchor babies,” permeate political discourse, particularly on the right. Look no further than the anti-immigrant response from groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies to the Department of Homeland Security bill that would expand guest work visas. By opposing this bill, objectors were opposing legislation that would allow more Asian immigrants into the United States.
Asian-Americans occupy a strange sphere. We’re used by some on the Right to showcase the model minority, which is a minority group that is better off than other minorities. We’re used to demonstrate that racism is nonexistent because, on average, Asian-Americans earn more money than whitesand generally perform better than other minorities in education measurements. But this allows those same people to justify scorning Hispanic and black communities who have not reached the same status as Asian-Americans.
This is why the racism debate that’s centered around schooling and the Ivy League admission process is so contentious. There is no doubt that Asian-Americans are being discriminated against when it comes to race-based admissions process that are in “favor” of African-Americans. But it’s also true that African-Americans and Hispanics have faced struggles that most Asian-Americans will not face such as mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline. But it still feels wrong to give in to a narrative that discriminates wholesale against an entire race merely because we have done well for ourselves in America. As lawyer and writer David French put it in National Review,“There are ways of closing achievement gaps that don’t involve racial discrimination against innocent, hard-working young people.”
I’m no stranger to racism myself. Over the past few years I’ve been called anchor baby, a wetback, and an illegal alien despite my being born here and excellent grasp of the English language. I’ve had random Facebook messages calling for my return to Asia, even though I’ve never stepped foot in an Asian country. In the comment sections of my articles, many have even floated my race as a reason for not taking my writing seriously.
I know how draining it is to know that no matter how good your English skills are––how Americanized you are––there are people out there that will hate you. It can dig into the very fabric of your soul and leave you questioning your identity as American. Blacks and Hispanics have also faced this problem of what it means to be an American, as they continue to bear the brunt of the drug war and immigration enforcement, continuously being demonized and stereotyped for their race.
Yes, our experiences are different from the those faced by other minority groups, but Asian-Americans are not a monolith to be used as a talking point by the Right or a sacrifice on the altar of diversity for the Left. Xenophobia and racism toward Asians still remains a problem we as a nation must address.Whether it comes from people who fear that Asian immigrants will steal American jobs, racists who hate the color of our skin, or admissions offices that discriminate against our success as a people, Asian-Americans must continue to fight racism—no matter its source.
Elias Atienza is a fourth year history major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Young Voices contributor. Follow him on Twitter @elias_atienza.