How The Asians Did Not Become White

In a May 29, 2014 Washington Post editorial “How the Asians Became White,” UCLA law professor, Eugene Volokh, argues that the claim that “Silicon Valley remains a white man’s world” resulting from a recent report on racial diversity in employment at Google overlooks the fact that 30 percent of Google employees are Asians, and in a manner he thinks is manipulative. To quote Volokh,

Google on Wednesday released statistics on the makeup of its work force, providing numbers that offer a stark glance at how Silicon Valley remains a white man’s world.
But wait — just a few paragraphs down, the post notes that non-Hispanic whites are 61 percent of the Google work force, slightly below the national average. (That average, according to 2006-10 numbers, is 67 percent.) Google is thus less white than the typical American company.

But there’s a sinister aspect to this as well. To begin with, calling Asians “non-minorities” or even “white” is an error, and is a denial of their heritage. Asians have succeeded even though they are a racial minority — this fact deserves to be acknowledged. It redounds to the credit of the many Asians who worked terribly hard against often overwhelming odds. And it’s evidence of the essential fairness of the American capitalist system, which has rewarded this hard work even though many people, including many government officials, tried to penalize it.

Good try, Eugene, but there are so many things wrong with this that I can hardly think where to begin. Just as a sampler, here are five.

1) First of all, let’s be clear about Eugene Volokh’s agenda. Volokh was a legal adviser to the 1996 Proposition 209 campaign that banned affirmative action in public employment, education, and contracting in California. He also supported Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential bid. You may remember Fred Thompson as the Roe v. Wade opposing, state’s rights supporting, global warming denying former Republican Senator of Tennessee. And, Volokh, who opposes “racial preferences” in school admissions, has been on this rant about Asians since at least 1998.

2) Volokh’s Asian obsession is best represented by his claim that, “Asians have succeeded even though they are a racial minority — this fact deserves to be acknowledged” while trying to argue that claims of racial discrimination on the part of other racial minority groups are exaggerated.

Talk about manipulative. Volokh’s long history of arguing that claims of racism in the U.S. are exaggerated to one aside, the last time I checked, most Asians don’t even identify as “Asian,” and instead identify by ethnicity, recognizing that the racial category “Asian,” as it is used by people like Volokh, lumps together ethnic groups that have very little in common in order to arrive at averages and medians that suggest we are heroes of a Horatio Alger-style myth of cross-racial mobility in America. In reality, not all Asians have made it, and even those of us who have done pretty well in the U.S. aren’t doing nearly as well as white people.

Asian ethnic groups like Cambodians, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Laotians, who came to the U.S. as refugees of war rather than via special visas that privilege many Taiwanese, Indians, and Japanese, among others, (often in order to fill labor shortages at high tech companies like Google), are actually grossly under-represented in the tech sector and in higher education, and not by a small margin. In fact members of these ethnic groups suffer from among the lowest rates of high school completion, and include the poorest groups by ethnicity in our country.

3) To suggest that Asians are being treated like white people, either on the left or the right, is just plain wrong. For example, if we do as Volokh does and lump Asians together, we do arrive at an average education level that exceeds that of whites. However, our per capita incomes are lower than whites’ per capita incomes. Moreover, Asians are the least likely among all racial groups to make it to the top in the private sector, including among law firms, again in spite of being better educated. In short, Volokh’s imagined color blind meritocracy has no clothes.

4) While Asians are in fact over-represented in Silicon Valley employment, whites are over-represented at the very highest levels of employment in the tech sector in general, including at Google (72 percent) not to mention among executives and owners in the business sector overall in the U.S. This is also true of teachers, lawyers, college professors, brokers, bankers, and the 1 percent. In fact, whites are more than 95 percent of the richest 1 percent of all people in this country. That statistic matters quite a bit more than Asians’ percentage of representation among Silicon Valley employees since the racial composition of those who own the greatest share of our economy has a powerful influence on our national politics. That fact that might explain why 733 dollars more is invested per student in schools that are 90 percent or more white than in students at schools that are 90 percent or more non-white.

5) Finally, Volokh’s argument’s most fatal flaw may be this one. While whites are “only” 61% of the workforce at Google, blacks are only 2 percent and Latinos are just 3%, while being about 11.6 and 19 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2011, respectively. That’s the real story here that Volokh conveniently manages to ignore.

Volokh dehumanizes Asians by turning us into a shield against racism in order to make what amount to racist arguments. As a professor of law, Volokh should be expected to avoid such specious argumentation. But then, like I said, the guy leads with his ideology, and that ideology is no friend of racial fairness, much less of Asians.


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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

8 replies on “How The Asians Did Not Become White”

Dude, you’re misinterpreting the Prof big time. He was criticizing the mainstream media’s use of the word “white” to describe Google.

Re #5, that’s not a flaw, his point isnt that the other minorities aren’t underrepresented as a whole, just that it’s due to the overrepresentation of asians, not whites who are technically underrepresented as well

Also, you say not all asians identify as asian, but plent of whites don’t identify as white either, plenty identify as italian or german or irish, and most eastern european whites underperform. Same of hispanics who consider themselves cuban or venezualen and have groups who also underperform. Even more recently immigrated Africans who’s heritage isn’t lost to slavery like many African Americans’ are identify as nigerian or ethiopian, this isn’t a trait unique to Asians, all races typically self identify more specifically than others will identify them

Actually, Andre, re: lumping Asians together, you’re making my point. I didn’t claim that this phenomenon is unique to Asians. When African heritage individuals come to the U.S. they go from being Nigerian, say, to being understood to be black, whether that is how they identify themselves or not. When a Croatian comes to the U.S., they become white, even if it never before occurred to them that they had a race and that the race they belong to is “white.” This is a process of racialization the U.S. imposes on people and has since the 1600s in order to support a political and economic system that is based, at least originally, on race. So when people use these categories to make specious arguments, I think it’s important to remind them that their argument rests on a political construction that was originally designed to support white supremacy.

In terms of whether or not whites are over or under represented at Google, the point is, the overwhelming majority of those making employment decisions at Google are white, so the fact that the 72% of Google employees who are managers AND white, indicates that it is unlikely that the most egregious form of racial discrimination is reflected in the fact that 62% of employees overall are white. That 30% are Asian indicates the same – that there isn’t an anti-Asian preference being expressed. But that blacks and Latinos are so grossly under-represented may, in fact, indicate a problem since the decision makers are mostly, in fact almost entirely, not Latino or black. And, other evidence supporting the possibility of unconscious, implicit bias is at work in hiring decisions in general is plentiful. For instance, 12.4% of black college grads between 22 and 27 years of age are unemployed compared with 5.6% of college grads overall. White people with past criminal convictions in tests with similarly qualified blacks without past criminal convictions enjoy a higher rate of success when seeking the same job.

These forms of implicit bias are deeply problematic. It creates an uneven playing field, something Google itself acknowledges. They reported on themselves, saying they had work to do. Even Google doesn’t deny that this is a problem. The prof is playing the champion for a company that hasn’t asked for one. And, by the way, no one is arguing that all hiring decisions need to result in a workforce that perfectly matches the U.S. racial demographic; just that the results would approximate, even remotely, the racial composition of the qualified pool of potential applicants. That pool includes an over-representation of Asians, but not such a gross under-representation of Latinos and blacks.

I’m learning a lot here. Thank you for that.
If you feel in the mood, or have the time, would you have a look at this?!66vrT If I understand correctly, Asian performance in education is one of the foundations of Model Minority Theory, but it does seem true that many Asians (of various backgrounds) in America focus a great deal of the family resources (time, energy and whatever money they have) on education, and that this is less true of other racial/cultural groups. Even low income, uneducated Asian parents in America seem to push education more than parents of other groups as a whole. Is that a fallacy? (genuine question).

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