Affirmative action has always been an extremely controversial subject. Although a survey by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) shows that on average 70% of Asian Americans are in support of affirmative action, there are very visible Asian American discourses that are in opposition. These discourses are perpetuated by the political Right who claim that Asian Americans are being hurt by affirmative action. By utilizing Asian Americans as a minority group that is being hurt by affirmative action, the political Right is able to claim that the fight against affirmative action is not about preserving white supremacy, but rather about helping Asian Americans who are being wrongly denied entry into colleges (Omi and Takagi). Groups like the 80-20 Asian American Initiative advocate against affirmative action due to these perceived disadvantages.
However, this is a gross misunderstanding of how affirmative action works. Affirmative action is simply a way to try to equalize the giant gaps in privilege between certain racial groups, and these racial groups may include Asian Americans as well as blacks and Latinos. Negative action occurs when an Asian American student does not get accepted when they would be if they were white. Oftentimes, the results of negative action are wrongly attributed to affirmative action, causing the misconception that affirmative action is stopping Asian American students from getting accepted.
In California, prop 209 passed and banned affirmative action from school admissions. This has resulted in a decrease in admissions for blacks and Latinos. Overall, Asian American admissions has resulted in a slight increase, but correlation does not prove causation. There is so much heterogeneity in the AAPI community and affirmative action may help different parts of the community. For groups that fall under the model minority stereotype, affirmative action may seem unnecessary. However, there are many disadvantaged AAPI groups that benefit from affirmative action.
In order to understand the necessity of affirmative action, we must acknowledge the privilege of certain groups and the historical processes that have disadvantaged other groups. The model minority stereotype for Asian Americans arose in part due to hyper selectivity in immigration; this results in a disproportionate amount of East Asian immigrants that are on average more highly educated and wealthier than the average population in the home country, creating the stereotype that Asian Americans are better off than whites despite being a minority group. However, the AAPI community is extremely polarized, with significant populations that have refugee backgrounds and/or live in poverty.
When Asian Americans are posed as opponents of affirmative action, the only group that significantly benefits is the white majority. By using relative racialization to pit AAPI against other minority groups as proof that minorities do not need help in order to succeed, AAPI that need help are ignored and white dominance is preserved.
Although affirmative action may not be the best way to equalize these racial inequalities in education, it is a step in the right direction and should not be faced with opposition from AAPI communities. AAPI should not let the white majority use the community in order to further white supremacy. Working in coalition with other minority groups would be more powerful and more beneficial for the AAPI community as a whole.
Written by Annie Hsu