guest post by carmina ocampo: top five myths about asian americans and affirmative action

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a case called Fisher v. Texas.

Fisher deals with whether the University of Texas, Austin's undergrad admissions program, which considers the race of an applicant as one of many factors in its admissions process, is constitutional. Looking at the big picture, this case matters a TON because the Supremes could decide to end affirmative action programs in higher education.

Below are the "Top Five Myths about Asian Americans and Affirmative Action." I attempt to drop science on the issue:

Myth #1: Affirmative action discriminates against Asians. Because of affirmative action, my Asian kid won't get into Harvard, Yale [insert elite colleges here].

Asians aren't victims of affirmative action programs. Studies have shown that AAPIs are harmed by "negative action," which is not the same as affirmative action. Negative action is when AAPIs are held to a higher standard than Caucasians, without any legitimate reason. Anti-affirmative action activists promote the idea that Asian Americans are competing for spots against African Americans and Latinos. We should reject these tactics that breed resentment and competition between people of color.

Opponents of affirmative action ignore history when they claim that Asians have been harmed by affirmative action in higher education. Affirmative action helped open doors of public and private universities to AAPIs in the 60's and 70's and AAPIs were included in affirmative action programs at grad. schools, including law schools like UCLA and Boalt.

Opponents of affirmative action also argue that considering race compromises merit. But merit comes in many forms and grades and test scores aren't everything. Research shows that standardized tests are often biased and skewed in favor of wealthier students. They also underestimate the potential of poor people, women and people of color.

Myth #2: Affirmative action doesn't benefit Asian Americans.

AAPIs and all students benefit from being educated in diverse learning environments, which affirmative action programs help create. AAPIs are harmed when they attend schools that are less racially diverse and more segregated. Proposition 209, which eliminated affirmative action in California, had a devastating impact on diversity in higher ed. In 2006, only 100 African American freshmen enrolled out of 4,802 total freshmen at UCLA, the lowest number of black freshman at UCLA in more than 30 years.

Affirmative action is framed as a Black and White issue, but it impacts AAPIs. Opponents of affirmative action love to use Asian Americans as spokespeople to argue against affirmative action. Opponents portray AAPIs as victims of affirmative action and as model minorities who have "succeeded" solely by hard-work, merit and education. In contrast, African Americans and Latinos are portrayed as under-qualified minorities that need affirmative action because they aren't smart enough or don't work hard enough (racist stereotypes). The model minority myth is divisive and misleading. It ignores the diversity within the AAPI community, denies that AAPIs have suffered and still suffer racial discrimination and pits us against other communities of color.

Myth #3: We live in a colorblind society and no longer need affirmative action. Race doesn't matter.

Race does matter! We don't live in a colorblind society. Racism, structural inequalities, and discrimination still exist and we need policies that consider race to address these problems. Opponents of affirmative action call affirmative action programs "racial preferences" but they are not preferential treatment. Affirmative action helps level the playing field for women and people of color, including AAPIs, by removing barriers that block the pathways of qualified people. Policies that consider only class, not race, ignore racial discrimination and don't achieve the same levels of racial diversity as race-conscious admissions policies.

Myth #4: Affirmative action helped Asian Americans in the past, but now Asian Americans don't need it.

Thanks to affirmative action programs, the presence of AAPIs in police and fire departments, government offices, law firms, management and university humanities departments increased. Today, Asian Americans STILL face disparities in education, employment and contracting and we benefit from diversity considerations. For example, the educational levels of Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans are similar to Latinos and African Americans. Only 12% of Laotian Americans and 14% of Hmong and Cambodian Americans have graduated from college.

But we can't only support programs when they benefit us. AAPIs should be ultra-cautious of claiming reverse discrimination in order to eliminate race-conscious remedies. By standing up for affirmative action regardless of whether we are included, AAPIs can show that we are not just motivated by self-interest but that we believe in racial justice and equality too.

Myth #5: Asians support the end of affirmative action.

Negatoro! For decades, Asian Americans have engaged in grassroots mobilization efforts to defend affirmative action. AAPI voters rejected anti-affirmative action measures at the ballot box too. For example, in 1996, 61% of AAPI voters in California voted AGAINST Proposition 209, an initiative that banned affirmative action programs in the state.

So Asians, please don't hate on affirmative action. It does our society good!

Carmina Ocampo is staff attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. She loves records, books, karaoke and soul music.

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