The Supreme Court of the U.S. delivered a temporary death knell to racial equality in the state of Michigan today by upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action policies. In doing so, the Court clarified that the Constitution merely permits, but does not require, the use of the kind of race-conscious programs barred by the Michigan Constitution, and that individual states can choose to ban affirmative action programs. The decision comes on the heels of efforts by the California legislature to revive affirmative action.
I support affirmative action. Contrary to mainstream media claims, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not the main proponents of ending affirmative action. As a Pacific Islander who has probably benefited from race-conscious policies, I have written at length about the need for affirmative action, as well as why it is constitutional. Here, I outline some reasons for why AAPI groups and individuals should not just support, but fight to restore affirmative action in Michigan, California and across the nation.
1. Allegations that the repeal of Proposition 209 would hurt Asian Americans are false. Affirmative action programs have helped countless numbers of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. As a historically marginalized group that has suffered both de jure and de facto discrimination, many Asian-American and Pacific Islanders have benefited from race-conscious polices in admissions and in the employment context since the 1960s. Additionally, race conscious policies continue to favor Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in fields where they are historically underrepresented, such as government contracting, corporate businesses, law firms, or leadership positions in government.
2. Omitting race-conscious policies would not help to break the bamboo-ceiling. Despite the mainstream notion that banning affirmative action helps Asian Americans, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that race-blind policies led to increased enrollment of Asian Americans in California. On the contrary, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been hurt by the repeal of affirmative action, as projected Asian-American enrollment rates have fallen as a result of Proposition 209 in California.
3. Going beyond the model-minority myth, many Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups are actually not living the purported American dream. Pacific Islander and Filipino students are twice as likely as their counterparts to drop out of high school. More than 50 percent of Pacific Islanders never made it to college. Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese students have twice the average high school drop out rates. Affirmative action programs help to redress these inequities rather than hide it behind the cloak of “model minority.”
4. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders do not lead single issue lives. Many Asian-American women and LGBT Asian-Americans directly benefit from affirmative action. Moreover, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, and Southeast Asians who also fall into the broad brush of “AAPI” also stand to benefit from most affirmative action programs due to their small numbers and history of marginalization.
5. No Asian American applicant is automatically disadvantaged by affirmative action in general. Rather, affirmative action broadens the qualified applicant pool by acknowledging that minority candidates who succeed despite centuries of systemic discrimination are just as qualified, and often more qualified, to be in the room. Think of it as a game of tug of war–Isn’t the person who has had to tug against 10 people as opposed to a lower number, considerably stronger as a candidate? Besides, we all benefit from a diverse student body.
6. Opposing race-conscious policies entrenches white supremacy. White women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action and white men are the primary beneficiaries of legacy admits but neither face heightened legal scrutiny nor political backlash. Rather, the latest fight against affirmative action policies frames the policy as an attack on Asian-Americans as a clever tactic to avoid what is really going on: opposing race-conscious policies to continue upholding and entrenching white supremacy. By pitting various racial minority groups against each other, white supremacy continues to win.
7. Real educational equity at universities will not come by opposing affirmative action. If there aren’t enough seats in the room to accommodate everyone who deserves an education, why not bring in another chair or add another school? Affirmative action is a remedial program, but it will never lead to the kind of systemic change that we need to create a more just and equitable society. That just means we need to make remedial policies better, not get rid of them.
8. Affirmative action is necessary to level the playing field. The National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium reports that white men make up 48 percent of the college-educated workforce, but hold more than 80 percent of the top jobs in U.S. corporations, law firms, college faculty, government, and news media