The express train hurtling to return racial preference admissions to California — in the form of State Constitutional Amendment 5, which if placed on the ballot and approved by voters would have overturned Prop. 209 —has just been derailed by an outburst of opposition from Asian Americans.
The eruption of opposition caught SCA 5’s Democratic sponsors by surprise and caused a crucial three Asian American senators to withdraw their support, depriving the measure of the two thirds senate majority required to place an initiative on the ballot. “Prior to the vote on SCA 5 in the Senate,” Senators Ted Lieu of Torrance, Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge, and Leland Yee of San Francisco wrote Assembly Speaker and lead sponsor John A. Pérez, “we heard no opposition to the bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts…. As lifelong advocates for the Asian American and other communities,” they added, “we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children.” (Or at least never again, a skeptic might observe.)
The three changed their minds, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, ”when they started hearing from Asian American constituents who feared that giving preferences to African American and Latino students would make it harder for their children to get into competitive University of California campuses.”
Feared? That’s rather like saying Jewish parents in the early 20th century feared that Jewish quotas would make it harder for their children to be admitted to Ivy League schools. Of course lowering admission standards for some students based on race or ethnicity inevitably raises the barrier for those of unpreferred races and ethnicities. And in fact, not just in logic, the passage of Prop. 209 prohibiting racial and ethnic preferential treatment produced a dramatic surge in the admission of Asians to selective California campuses.
In 1997, the last year preferences were still in effect, Asians were 29.8% of those admitted to the University of California system. In the fall of 2010, their proportion had increased to 37.5%. At Berkeley, according to a university fact sheet, the percentage of Asian admits increased from 41.7% in 1997 to 47.1% in 2007. In the most recent data available, statements of intent to register for next fall’s freshman class, Asians will be 46.6% of the entering freshmen at Berkeley, 51.7% at San Diego, and 49% at Irvine (where whites will be only 13.9%).
These numbers should not be surprising. In a major 2005 study of affirmative action, expanded in a 2009 book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade (who supports affirmative action) and his co-authors concluded that if affirmative action were eliminated across the nation “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students, with an acceptance rate rising from nearly 18 percent to more than 23 percent.” (Quoted here, from the article.) Thus what needs to be explained is not the “fear” of Asian parents that preferences to blacks and Hispanics discriminate against Asians — that fear is entirely rational and based on irrefutable evidence — but why it took so long for them to express it, and why they have continued to support Democrats who support policies that discriminate against their own children.
What also cries out even louder for explanation is why “civil rights” groups such as Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) support affirmative action programs that so demonstrably discriminate against so many Asian Americans. In its statement on SCA 5, CAA emphasizes its “strong opinion that affirmative action must remain a tool for advancing fairness and equality for Asian Americans and others in the foreseeable future, and ought to be embraced in solidarity with all communities that face systemic discrimination.” It does, however, call for amendments including an “explicit prohibition of quotas,” as though that should make the explicit awarding of preferences to others acceptable.
The AALDEF, “progressive” organization that it is, actually defends the discrimination against Asians and attacks the Asians who protest against it. A blog post discussing SCA 5 on its site a few days ago, for example, complains that normally:
Asian Americans are trotted out by predominantly white anti-affirmative action groups as the poor “aggrieved victims,” as in Texas and Michigan.
In this new California fight to reverse the ending of affirmative action, some Chinese Americans, most of them new immigrants, have learned their political role and have been quick to speak out first.
Presumably those Chinese American “new immigrants” are so new they have not yet learned their proper place on the progressive plantation.
The “new Chinese immigrants” who have not learned that their desire for colorblind equal opportunity must defer to the demands of other groups for preferential treatment are not the only Asian targets of progressive defenders of affirmative action. The rising call for “disaggregation” — in effect eliminating “Asian American” as a classification so that different sub-groups can be treated differently — would introduce a whole new layer of discrimination against long-resident communities of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans.
A report issued by The National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) calls for “data disaggregation to better understand the variation of the educational experiences and outcomes within the highly diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander student population” so that some Asian American groups, but not others, can become beneficiaries rather than victims of “diversity.” The failure to disaggregate Asian and Asian-American data to reveal its sub-groups, the report claims, “has been a key barrier to policy and program development that advances the equitable treatment for the AAPI community.”
By “equitable treatment,” I noted in “Disaggregation: Not Enough Hmong Among Us?,” what the disaggregators really call for “is unequal treatment — preferential treatment of the ‘underrepresented’ sub-groups.” That is clearly what AALDEF has in mind when it justifies its support of SCA 5 by pointing out that “segments of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, most notably the Filipino, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander groups, remain woefully underrepresented.”
The disaggregators may think (or at least hope) that increasing the preferential treatment of “underrepresented” Asian groups would silence the growing Asian opposition to affirmative action, but it might do the opposite. Ron Unz has demonstrated that the proportion of Asians accepted to selective, especially Ivy League, colleges has remained unchanged despite the increasing numbers of highly qualified Asian applicants. Whether of not this “surprising” consistency results from overt or covert quotas or the miracle of massaged “holistic” criteria, admitting more members of Asian sub-groups would result in the admission of even fewer Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other traditionally high-performing Asian applicants, the very applicants who under the current system suffer the most from the preferences given to blacks and Hispanics.
Another odd aspect of the progressive Asian defense of discrimination against Asians is its anti-white bias, as when AALDEF accuses Asians of “starting to sound like whites.”
Asian Americans are the most overrepresented among all students in the UC system. When you look at the overall numbers at all the UCs, ideally, you’d want a public system to mirror the state’s population, wouldn’t you?
Well, no, I’d want a public system whole flagship campuses attracted the best students, but maybe that’s just me. Not AALDEF; it sees too many Asians. When it looks at the numbers it sees “Asian Americans, 40 percent at UC, 14 percent in the state,” and concludes “That’s why Prop. 209 needs to be reversed.”
And why, some of AALDEF’s ostensible constituents might ask, is “sounding like whites so bad?” if what that means is arguing that the state should not distribute benefits or burdens based on race. In any event the complaint that Asian critics of affirmative action sound white is odd, inasmuch as AALDEF’s own list of numbers that it invites readers to look at includes “Whites, 24 percent at UC, 39 percent in the state.”
Similarly odd, from the same blog post, is the charge that “Prop. 209 was written by two white academics who were trying to stem the tide of new competition from diverse groups in public education and employment. All 209 did was preserve the overrepresentation of certain groups, while making it impossible to do anything to remedy the underrepresentation of others.”
How confusing! Does AALDEF believe that whites passed Prop. 209 to preserve their “overrepresentation” or that the “underrepresentation” of whites in the UC system is something it would like to correct by abolishing Prop. 209?
Many people continue to believe, mistakenly, that ending racial preferences benefits whites — and “progressives” like AALDEF even argue that opposition to preferences is rooted in racism. In fact, whites have become a seriously underrepresented minority in the University of California system. In 1996 whites were 44% of the freshman admits; by 2010 their percentage of freshman admits had dropped to 34%.
Perhaps the derailment of SCA 5 will prove to be only temporary. Perhaps some window-dressing amendments favored by CAA such as “the explicit prohibition of quotas” and increasing the “absolute numbers” admitted to the selective campuses, which would allow the reintroduction of lower standards for blacks and Hispanics without reducing the current number of Asians, will put it on track again.
But there is a possibility that the sudden expression of fierce opposition to the discrimination against them by so many Asian Americans in California means that the Humpty Dumpty of affirmative action has taken another great fall — as damaging to it as the rejection by substantial majorities of voters in California and Michigan — and can’t be put together again.