The Justice Department has opened up an investigation into a discrimination suit brought up by a coalition of Asian American organizations against Harvard University. In an attempt to challenge its affirmative action policies, the coalition is claiming that the university discriminated against Asian American applicants in the admissions process.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has time-and-time again affirmed that it is constitutional to consider race in the higher education admissions process, this investigation is conjuring up long-standing animosity against education policies that uplift communities of color, who are historically disadvantaged in American institutions.
Here’s what’s alarming about the Harvard suit, advised by Edward Blum, a leading anti-affirmative action advocate and lead counsel for Abigail Fisher in her suit against the University of Texas – Austin: It isn’t fronted by white plaintiffs—Asian Americans are the faces of it.
Even though affirmative action has benefited communities of color, including Asian Americans, the community is still divided over its stance on affirmative action. Jarringly, the amount of Asian Americans who said they supported affirmative action policies dropped from 63 percent in 2014 to 52 percent in 2016, according to an article from Above The Law.
Anti-affirmative action proponents argue that the race-conscious policies ultimately hurt Asian Americans. Cory Liu, executive director of Students for Fair Admissions, said in the Above The Law article that “antiquated racial categories should not be used to determine our destiny,” asserting that all Americans have equal rights and “deserve an equal opportunity to attend the school of our dreams.”
However, Asian Americans affirmative action advocates like Jenn Fang of Reappropriate contend that race-conscious education policies ensure that all students have “equal opportunity to receive quality higher education” and support racially diverse classrooms, which promote cognitive development, analytical problem-solving and teamwork.
We can’t forget how Asian Americans have been historically used as pawns to uphold white supremacy. The idea of the “model minority” was constructed in the 1960s to uphold racial hierarchy, painting Asian Americans as the “good minorities” versus the supposedly “bad minorities” like Black Americans, who have a complex history of being disenfranchised in the U.S.
This suit painfully reinforces the model minority archetype. It paints the Asian American plaintiffs as stereotypically “model” students, who lost out on a spot at the university simply because of affirmative action policies.
Asian Americans—it’s 2017. Why are we still playing into this racial dichotomy that we know is indisputably false? We need to remember to not look at Asian Americans a monolith. There are Asian American groups beyond East Asians who are grossly underrepresented in college admission and undoubtedly benefit from affirmative action, such as Hmong, Lao, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students.
Let’s not conflate white, anti-affirmative action advocates’ supposed interest in the needs of the Asian American community as actual concern—we’re simply pawns in an attempt to resist policies that actually benefit Asian Americans and communities of color. Asian Americans are shamelessly used to prove that affirmative action is discriminatory, but this is nothing more than a fallacy to erase the struggles of Black and Brown folks, and those of underserved Asian Americans.
Beyond our own community, we need to stand in solidarity with communities of color that benefit from affirmative action. Let’s remember that the road to affirmative action, in which Asian Americans have undoubtedly benefited, was built off the backs of Black activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Although not the be-all and end-all to ensure racial justice, affirmative action is a step toward righting the wrongs imposed upon Black and Brown folks to disadvantage them throughout the fabrics of American society.
Ignoring affirmative action’s history in opening doors for marginalized communities not only upholds racial hierarchies, but it also plays into the hands of white supremacy. The goal of affirmative action is to ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity to institutions that were once out of reach for communities of color. If affirmative action measures were to end, acceptance of Black, Latinx and Asian American students would be gravely affected.