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10.10.2018

The American Dream isn’t Colorblind. College Admissions Shouldn’t Be, Either.

Guest Post by Jang Lee



Edward Blum, the mastermind behind the Harvard lawsuit, appeals to the myth of American meritocracy to claim that race should not be used in the college admissions process; but he fails to acknowledge that the American Dream -- predicated on such meritocracy -- is not colorblind. In this nation, the color of our skin still shapes how we access opportunity and whether we profit from our labor.


Like many other immigrant families, my parents hustled for the American Dream. They shed their life in Korea to fly West because of an idea: hard work, irrespective of background, was the one ingredient necessary for success. Their small donut shop and my dad's various second jobs pooled enough money for me and my brother to attend test-prep centers. Days began at 3AM, concluding with hot oil burns fresh across tired arms so my brother and I could have the luxury of boredom and the privilege of an American education.

But while fabricating some version of the nuclear family, my parents did not realize the American Dream was an impossible one. Nearly two decades after immigrating here we still chase after a green card -- a reminder that despite years of hard work the American soil will invariably render our bodies foreign because of our race. In 2016 my brother graduated college and returned to Korea, frustrated and tired of navigating an immigration system which has us pleading for a visa extension every couple of years. My mother, desperate for her oldest son to achieve a reality she sacrificed her life for, had begged him to stay. He is now serving in the Korean army's compulsory two-years of service.

As my own graduation date draws closer, my mom's questions become more frequent. She calls me every Sunday to ask what will happen to me. I don't know, I tell her. When she cries on the phone I feel awkward and guilty and say nothing while she stifles back tears. I wonder if this was the American Dream my parents had imagined for us all those years ago.

Struggling to hold legitimacy in a country I consider home has shown me that America's version of meritocracy is not colorblind. Race mediates our lives, from the minutiae to the broad, heavy strokes. Regardless of whether we immigrated here or not, the color of our skin reminds us that our opportunity is not tantamount to those of our white peers. Race and ethnicity predict SAT scores, minority schools are underfunded compared to schools with more white students, and racism correlates with a psychological toll on minorities, particularly in the African American community. A race-blind admissions policy reductively assumes all applicants begin with similar resources and opportunities to achieve. Why not use socioeconomic class rather than race in the admissions process? Because in America, race still matters.

Blum exploits this myth of the American Dream to manipulate Asian Americans -- who will never see that Dream fully realized because of the color of their skin. In advocating for a race-blind admissions policy, he believes hard work should be the exclusive metric of success. However, in a society where black adults earn less than white adults who grew up in similar backgrounds, and the bamboo ceiling excludes Asian Americans from higher leadership positions, hard work will always have its limits.

If Blum truly cared about the state of Asian Americans in higher education, he would target practices that enable white students who don't meet admissions standards to enter elite institutions through the backdoor. Harvard's legacy preferences, which increase the likeliness of admissions by nearly six-fold, overwhelmingly favor white and wealthy applicants. And while legacy preferences are prominent in Harvard admissions, it is hardly unique to the school. Legacy admissions at many colleges operate as set-asides for wealthy whites; of the top 100 universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report, about three-quarters favor legacy applicants.

I am working with lawyers at Asian Americans Advancing Justice to defend affirmative action because higher education should be a prerogative for all, especially the historically oppressed. Revoking affirmative action would only codify America's bias for those who are born into privilege -- namely, the wealthy white. We must stand in solidarity with other communities of color while also resisting the manipulation of our narrative as a tool for racial division. Asian America: don't acquiesce to Blum's harmful agenda.

Jang Lee is a senior at Harvard and one of the student amici that submitted a declaration in support of Harvard's race-conscious admissions program. He is from Flower Mound, Texas.