Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

by Annabel Hou


The Asian American community is made up of many different races from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. By lumping all Asian Americans together, it is hard to tell whether or not affirmative action harms or benefits Asian Americans, but the general consensus is that Asian American students are discriminated against for admission to higher education institutions. Affirmative action as defined by Oxford Dictionaries is an action favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, also called positive discrimination. Why then is the system working against Asian Americans despite the historical and concurrent racial injustice Asian Americans are facing today? One idea is that the White majority is taking advantage of Asian American injustice with regards to affirmative action and using it for their own anti-affirmative action agendas to preserve white dominance.

Affirmative action only appears to be detrimental when it affects the majority white population. As seen in the complaint lodged by Jerry and Ellen Cook, a white couple from San Diego, they insinuated that affirmative action harmed Asian Americans even more than whites and benefited Chicanos for medical school admission to the UCs. In arguing for their son’s admission unto UC San Diego Medical School, they inevitably brought Asian American racial injustice as a reason to appeal their son’s rejection. They believed affirmative action was the sole reason behind their son’s rejection and sought to repeal that decision by attacking it. Affirmative action is only unfair when the privileged lose out.

In another case, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley, were found to be discriminating against Asian Americans and changes were made to rectify the issue. However, the previous policy was actually benefitting White applicants. Again, conservatives twisted facts and made it seem like affirmative action was causing harm and needed to be abolished instead of the “negative action” at hand. The new policies drafted up by the University of California Board of Regents inevitably decreased the proportion of eligible AAPI students and dramatically increased the proportion of eligible White students. This was justified by saying that total number of eligible AAPI students increased with the change in admission criteria and that data used would be irrelevant by the time the new policy would be implemented.

In both cases, arguments against affirmative action were lodged by members of the White majority looking to recruit Asian Americans into their anti-affirmative action agenda. Advocating for Asian American rights in higher education was only a façade to push forward with their own views and the main issue of race in affirmative action is thrown aside. Because Asians only make up 3% of the US population and lack public intellectuals, it is hard for Asian Americans to retaliate against discrimination and unfair treatment. If Asian Americans want racial and social justice, it is imperative that Asian Americans no longer remain passive and be taken advantage of and instead work together with other minority groups.



Omi, Michael and Takagi, Dana. 1996. Situating Asian Americans in the political discourse on affirmative action. Representations, (55), pp.155-162

Poon, Oiyan, 2009. Haunted by negative action: Asian Americans, admissions, and race in the “color-blind era.”Asian American Policy Review18, pp.81-90


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