Asian-Americans and Affirmative Action

As co-blogger David Bernstein notes, Fisher v. Texas highlights the ways in which today’s affirmative action programs victimize Asian-American students for the benefit of groups that often have not endured the kind of massive systematic discrimination inflicted on blacks, and indeed may have suffered less historic discrimination than the Asian-Americans themselves. I previously wrote about this problem here:

The Asian-American case also highlights the contradiction between the compensatory justice and diversity rationales for affirmative action in admissions… If the goal of affirmative action is to compensate minority groups who have been victimized by discrimination for the injustices they have suffered, many Asian-American groups deserve not only equal treatment but racial preferences. Chinese and Japanese-Americans, for example, were victimized by extensive state-sponsored discrimination — culminating in the internment of some 150,000 [correction: 120,000] Japanese-Americans during World War II, despite the fact that none were ever proven to be enemy spies, and very few showed any signs of disloyalty….

If, on the other hand, the goal of affirmative action is [as Grutter holds] to promote “diversity” for the sake of ensuring that each ethnic group is represented by a “critical mass” in the student body sufficient to educate other students about their culture, then the lack of affirmative action for Asian-Americans becomes more understandable. Because of their impressive academic credentials, a critical mass of Asian students can be achieved even without affirmative action preferences. However, this conclusion may be overstated. “Asians” are not a monolithic group. Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Cambodians all have very different cultures [and some of these groups don’t have as high average grades and test scores as others]. Indeed, immigrants from one part of India or China often have different cultures and speak different languages from those hailing from other parts of the same nation. Treating them all as an undifferentiated mass of “Asian-Americans” is a bit like saying that Norwegians, Italians, and Bulgarians are basically the same because they are “Europeans.” If diversity is really the goal, university administrators should do away with the artificial “Asian-American” category altogether and start considering each group separately. They should do the same for the many groups usually lumped together as “white” or “Hispanic.” A university that already has a critical mass of native-born-WASPS might well not have a critical mass of Utah Mormons or Eastern European immigrants.

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