Why Affirmative Action Matters

In light of recent lawsuits against Harvard, and the increasing dissent against affirmative action in my own community, I decided to write this very extensive post.

Let’s get a few things straight: I believe affirmative action is a net good system with some current flaws that exist in its current operations. Yes, I am an Asian-American, but my personal identity should not excuse racist or discriminatory beliefs.

First and foremost, my original view of affirmative action (referred to in the rest of this post as AA) was largely influenced by my parents (in other words, I was brainwashed). I had internalized the model minority stereotype–that my high test scores were a product of individual hard work rooted in my “culture” and that I deserved to go to the most selective institution because of that 4.0 GPA and high standardized test scores. But not only me, rather, Asian-Americans deserved the best schools, teachers, and resources, because we “worked the hardest on education.”

This was what my parents taught me, infiltrating me with subtle anti-blackness while simultaneously praising the meritocracy. And thus, I hated AA. I believed it was an unjust system aimed at giving easier paths for “lazy” students, while purposefully limiting out Asian-Americans because we were the “yellow peril.”

However, after stepping away from my parents’ brainwashing techniques, and seeing how American society functions outside the privileged bubble I had spent the past sixteen years in, I have come to realize that my original beliefs were only 30% correct.

Why Affirmative Action is Necessary

Centuries of institutional racism and segregation cannot be solved through a few race-unconscious (I prefer not to use the word “blind“) policies that act as a facade for equality. Although it is true that in the past decades, civil rights groups have made significant improvements to material conditions for marginalized groups, the fight still has a long way to go. With incarceration disproportionately targeting Black and Latinx folk, school district lines aimed to segregate the rich and the poor, Trump in office, etc. have proven that status quo policies are insufficient and easy to roll back.

Policymakers are largely rich, white, and some are currently unqualified for their position. It makes little sense that people who have never experienced the conditions of minority groups are dictating how said groups should live their lives. But, to have control in the first place–to have representatives for your own demographic–America’s capitalist value of brand-names means that the more the prestigious the school, the more likely it is to have “power.” Dismantling stereotypes begins with giving historical compensations through programs like AA. It is definitely not an end point, but a crucial first step.

Race-unconscious Policies Don’t Work

White America continues to be racist, despite race-unconscious policies that have been implemented with the intent to promote equality. When one’s race is inextricably tied to their experiences, living conditions, etc. it is impossible to simply ignore it. For instance, a lower class white person does not face the same struggles as a lower class person of color. Thus, basing affirmative action solely on socio-economic status erases, quoting a friend of mine, “the critical role that race plays in academic privilege.”

Fixing the Current System

If college admissions and AA should be race-conscious, then how exactly would they function? This is a question I’m not an expert on, and I do not have a definitive answer. However, a few months ago during the civil rights unit of my AP US History class, I learned that programs like AA, forced busing, and the fair housing act implemented in the 1960’s were supposedly solutions that would begin to dismantle de-facto segregation and institutionalized barriers, not to create racial quotas. Thus, Asian-Americans, as a historically marginalized community, also deserve these reparations.

Therefore, it makes little sense for Asian-Americans to oppose AA. Why then, are there lawsuits left and right from Asian-Americans that target AA?

Asian-Americans are Exploited by White America

The majority of Asian-Americans who do hold dissenting beliefs are not angry at the flaws of a net-good system, but rather they slander the entirety of AA. However, the role that white America plays in fostering this hatred cannot be ignored.

The model minority stereotype arose as a form of social control during the civil rights era, and is often associated with the question, “if Asians can do it, why can’t XYZ minority?” In terms of education, Asian-Americans are also used as a tool by conservative groups to justify opposing AA as a whole.

Asian-Americans have bought into the model minority stereotype, and some have failed to realize that they are not experiencing a position of institutional equality. The original purpose of affirmative action is not supposed to harm them. White folk are still at the top of the hierarchy, and white supremacists are pitting minorities against each other without any consequences.

In summary, Asian-Americans are not supposed to be harmed by AA, but white America has forced them to believe that AA is terrible as a whole.

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