Affirmative Action: When class is not enough

Photo credit: LA Times
Photo credit: LA Times

Over the last two weeks, I’ve written a series of posts about affirmative action initiated by the fight over SCA5, a bill that would have amended the California constitution to repeal Prop 209 for public education and restore narrow considerations of race to the college admissions process as part of holistic review of qualified applicants. SCA5 was withdrawn after backlash from Asian American voters, but the fight over the morality of race-based affirmative action rages on — particularly in the comments section of my posts, where I’ve been privileged to host several forums to encourage further discussion on this subject.

One significant point of contention is the use of race vs. class in affirmative action. Whereas some SCA5 opponents have lobbed radically non-factual charges against race-based affirmative action, others are more moderate in their counter arguments; they assert that whereas use of race-based information is discriminatory, class-based affirmative action is a reasonable alternative.

And, indeed, the fight over race vs. class-based affirmative action has persisted in liberal circles for years; most recently, support of class-based affirmative action was cited as part of Tanner Colby’s diatribe against race-based affirmative action in Slate.

The focus on class-based affirmative action is appealing to some liberals precisely because it rejects the unseemly conversations of race that can force a conversation on White privilege. Instead, it blames minority underachievement on classism, not racism, and leaves liberals comfortably in support of increased state spending on social services. Tacitly, they argue, if poor minorities can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps after we address the impacts of their poverty, their failures must then be their fault. In short, arguments in support of class-based affirmative action is viewed as a panacea for social iniquity, with a concurrent, explicit denial of any further impact of institutional racism on underrepresented minority students.

Ironically, the UC system under Prop 209 provides the perfect counter-argument to these charges. California’s public education system, with its late-90’s rejection of race-based admissions, provide the ideal demonstration of the inadequacies of purportedly “colour-blind” admissions policies that engage in class-based affirmative action in the absence of racial consideration.

Or, as Scot Nakagawa points out, post-Prop 209 college admissions in the UC system demonstrate that “in a racially inequitable society, color blind solutions end up reflecting that inequitable context and often even contributes to its perpetuation.”

Continue reading “Affirmative Action: When class is not enough”

Efforts to repeal Prop 209 halted; voters will not vote on #SCA5 this November | #edu4all

California Assembly Speaker John A Perez. Photo credit: Sacramento Bee.
California Assembly Speaker John A Perez. Photo credit: Sacramento Bee.

Fresh off the presses, California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez has caved to political pressure levied upon him regarding Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA5), a bill advanced by California Democrats earlier this year and which, at the time, received unanimous Democratic support. I, obviously, have been writing in the last few days in support of SCA5, presenting the overwhelming evidence that shows that Prop 209 has been damaging to the UC system.

But, as expected by everyone who has been following this debate, Speaker Perez announced that he would not put SCA5 to a general assembly vote this cycle, meaning it will not appear as a referendum for voters on the November ballot.

The announcement came as no surprise following days of outcry from vocal groups of Chinese Americans in Southern California, many repeating a series of misleading statements first spread by Chinese-language ethnic news media and conservative PACs. In the wake of the outrage, three Democratic Chinese-American senators who had previously supported the measure — Sens. Ted Lieu, Carol Liu, and Leland Yee — issued a joint letter withdrawing their support and calling for a delay in the vote; in explaining their change of heart, the senators cited an online petition that had garnered over a hundred thousand signatures as well as hundreds of calls made to their offices. Congresswoman Judy Chu also voiced her reservations about SCA5.

Conservative Chinese American groups such as the 80-20 Initiative, which spear-headed the anti-SCA5 efforts in Southern California — have already shifted their focus towards using the issue to further partisan goals. Over the weekend, 80-20 sent an email to their listserv members, requesting donations and instructing them to register as Republicans.

Personally, while I am happy that Chinese Americans were able to demonstrate our political clout in California, and achieve a clear political victory in that state, I am disappointed that this victory was achieved through a largely uninformed, non-factual message that appealed mostly to the fears of the Chinese American base. The SCA5 debate of the last few days was characterized not by nuance, but by clearly untrue statements that drew upon the dual assumptions of Asian American exceptionalism, and Black and Latino underachievement. Rather then to have a sophisticated conversation about affirmative action — an imperfect solution worthy of prolonged and complex debate — the conversation was dominated largely by racial fear and misinformation. And sadly, the ramification of this advocacy will have real-world consequences on the ongoing exclusion of underrepresented minorities from California’s publicly-funded institutions of higher learning.

As Chinese Americans come into our own as a nascent political voice, is this really the face of Chinese America we want to present?

In the end, I am thankful I got to be a part of this debate (and I am thankful to all of you readers who showed up on my blog to voice your opposition to me, but who did so as an effort to elevate the level of the discussion). I’m glad that my efforts helped to present a counter-narrative to the vocal Chinese American opposition to SCA5, and invite all of you new readers to my blog to stick around and become regular readers, as well as to generally remain involved in the fight for social justice.

I look forward to efforts down the road that might one day repeal Prop 209, and until then I urge Chinese American voters who spoke out so vocally against SCA5 to now apply that same energy to the real threat to Asian American admissions in the UC system: state-wide budget cuts, which is the only legislative action in the last 22 years to cause a drop in Asian American in-state admissions, and which did so by a shocking 25%.

On the plus side, maybe now I’ll get to write all the posts I had to put on the back-burner this last week.

Act Now! If you supported SCA5 and/or efforts by Asian Americans to present a different opinion on the bill, I urge you to check out my list of groups that voiced approval of SCA5, and to donate to their ongoing efforts on behalf of Asian American advocacy.

List of #AAPI Groups & Posts in Support of Affirmative Action and #SCA5 | #NoLiesNoHate #edu4all

Photo credit: AALDEF
Photo credit: AALDEF via Angry Asian Man

Despite the prevailing narrative that Asian Americans are overwhelmingly against affirmative action and SCA5, a bill that would if passed repeal elements of Proposition 209 for public education, this narrative is far from true. It turns out that there is a large, but underreported, population of AAPIs who stand in support of affirmative action and SCA5. In the National Asian American Survey (NAAS), 70% of Asian Americans and 65% of Pacific Islander Americans supportive affirmative action programs. So where are we in the mainstream coverage of SCA5? Are our voices being drowned out by the vehement, and occasionally misinformed, anti-SCA5 rhetoric?

This post is an ongoing list of Asian American/Pacific Islander groups that have issued statements in support of affirmative action and SCA5, as well as an ongoing list of blog posts and op-eds that support this measure. Since the pro-SCA5 efforts have just started mobilizing, this post will continue to be updated with more information.

If your group has come out in favour of affirmative action in general, and/or SCA5 in particular, please leave a comment or tweet me (@Reappropriate) to add your group to this list.

Continue reading “List of #AAPI Groups & Posts in Support of Affirmative Action and #SCA5 | #NoLiesNoHate #edu4all”