By Guest Contributor: Nicole Gon Ochi, Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA)
Last month, reports surfaced that California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, the #MeToo activist under investigation for sexual harassment and under fire for using homophobic slurs, also made racist comments about Asians in 2014, when she reportedly said, “This makes me feel like I want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face.” Garcia’s statement came during a heated moment in California’s history when a bill (SCA 5) to repeal California’s ban on the consideration of race in college admissions (Prop 209) was defeated by Asian American opponents of affirmative action.
Garcia’s comment is undeniably hateful and offensive. It essentializes all Asian Americans into a single trope and targets them for violence. I wholeheartedly denounce Garcia’s comment, however I also empathize with her underlying anger because the anti-affirmative action organizing around SCA 5 was deeply painful for many people. For decades, although Asian Americans have benefited from affirmative action, we as a group have been used as a racial wedge to minimize the effects of structural racism, denigrate other communities of color, maintain white supremacy and argue for the virtues of colorblindness.
As a whole, Asian Americans have largely resisted efforts to co-opt our own history of discrimination and exclusion to reinforce a racial hierarchy that continues to harm us. When conservative white politicians began using Asian Americans as a racial wedge in debates over elite admissions policies in the 1980s, leading Asian American academics and activists resisted this characterization. A majority of Asian Americans voted against Prop 209 in 1996 and public opinion polling consistently shows that Asian Americans support affirmative action. So, it came as a surprise when a small group of highly organized, primarily Chinese immigrants quickly and effectively pushed Asian American state legislators, many of whom had already voted for the bill, to ultimately turn back an effort to restore equity to public higher education.
This post was first published in November 2014. However, with resurgent interest in affirmative action and the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, I have republished this post updated for 2017.
Thus, the AAPI community finds ourselves once again thrust into the spotlight in the national affirmative action debate. Opponents of affirmative action suggest that these latest legal efforts are on behalf of the AAPI community. They suggest that most AAPIs are against race-conscious affirmative action, yet several studies reveal that more than 65% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders support affirmative action, both in professional and academic settings.
It’s important that we accurately represent the political opinions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on this issue. Specifically, we must render our community’s support for affirmative action visible.
In 2014, I aggregated a list of AAPI groups and writing in support of affirmative action. I have replicated and modified that list in this post, and will update it over the next several months with additional writing from around the internet.
Please feel free to link to this post as a resource regarding the attitudes of AAPI on affirmative action in the upcoming national debate on this issue. The abundance of this writing demonstrate clearly that while affirmative action is a polarizing topic within the AAPI community, there is strong and vocal support for race-conscious affirmative action in our community that deserves visibility.
Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) held a press conference moments ago to announce that lawyers with the group will represent two Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) high school students who wish to present their support of race-conscious affirmative action admission before the Supreme Court if and when the justices hear arguments next year about an anti-affirmative action lawsuit filed against the school by Edward Blum, the architect behind Abigail Fisher’s earlier failed attempts to dismantle affirmative action before the Court.
The two AAPI high school students represented by AAAJ-LA are current applicants to Harvard University, and both believe that race-conscious affirmative action is beneficial; AAAJ-LA filed paperwork yesterday to help the students join an existing group of diverse students who will have “amicus plus” status to present their support for affirmative action in a pending anti-affirmative action case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.
When the matter comes under contest, affirmative action’s Asian American advocates readily point to disparities in higher education access for particular Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. According to a 2015 report on AANHPI higher education in California:
Filipinx, Thai, Laotian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students are admitted into the University of California (UC) system at rates significantly lower than the general admit rate.
Filipinxs, Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Guamanians/Chamorros, and Fijians are, relative to their overall population, underrepresented in the UC system.
Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Guamanian/Chamorro, Samoan, and Laotian adult individuals (25 years and older) possess bachelor degrees (or higher) at rates lower than the overall state average of 31%.
The importance of noting these disparities cannot be overstated. However, to one particular Asian American audience, this may be thoroughly unconvincing. Persuasive as they might be to a broader audience, the typical pro-affirmative action argument from AANHPI advocacy groups fails to persuade some Asian Americans who oppose affirmative action because they leave an elephant in the room unaddressed.