Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
At a time when our elites have decided that absolutely everything in American society comes down to the supposedly fraught, brutal, and never-ending power relationship between oppressive whites and oppressed blacks – and where, according to Critical Race Theory, white-on-black racism must constantly and tirelessly be rooted out, challenged, denounced, and vigorously countered with anti-racist actions, statements, and preferences in accordance with the semi-literate but apparently divinely inspired directives of Ibram X. Kendi and his ilk – where do Asians fit in?
There’s no such question about Latinos and Native Americans, who, being recognized victim groups, can be pretty tidily bundled in with blacks on the “oppressed” side of the ledger. But Asians? Increasingly, Asians are seen as “white-adjacent.” Yes, many Asians have had it bad. Real bad. (Of course, we’re using “Asian” here not in the euphemistic way Brits do – to mean, mostly, Pakistanis and other Muslims from Southwest Asia – but in the American sense, to refer primarily to Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, and other East Asians.) As Xu reminds us, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the only piece of legislation of its kind in American history, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was without parallel. Many Asian immigrants to the U.S., moreover, have experienced poverty and oppression in their homelands beyond the imagining of even the poorest and most downtrodden American of any skin color.
But somehow their suffering doesn’t count. While blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans receive a leg-up in college admissions, job hirings, and other such circumstances, Asians don’t. On the contrary, the same systems that are rigged in favor of those other groups tend to be rigged against Asians – often to a grotesque degree. As Kenny Xu records in his definitive new book An Inconvenient Minority: The Attack on Asian American Excellence and the Fight for Meritocracy, an Asian student wanting to get into Harvard in 2009 (and the injustice certainly hasn’t disappeared since then) “had to score an astounding 450 points higher on a 1600-point SAT test than a Black student to have the same chance of admission.” Of course, when affirmative action started, it was supposed to make up for slavery and its aftermath. But if that’s the premise, then why do Latinos also get a boost? Presumably because as a group they’ve known suffering and oppression. Why not Asians, then?
To get the full answer, Xu explains, we have to go back to 1978, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of white plaintiff Allan Bakke, who asserted that explicit racial quotas had denied him a place at the UC Davis School of Medicine. He was right. But the liberal court didn’t want to strike down affirmative action. So Justice Lewis Powell invented a new justification for racial preferences: not only do they purportedly redress the wrong of slavery, they also produce “diversity,” which, Powell claimed, makes a “substantial” contribution to a campus environment. Thus was born what Xu calls the “diversity rationale,” which in turn gave rise to the vast, lucrative “diversity industry.” This industry is now firmly established, needless to say, at innumerable mid-level universities like UC Davis, but its machinations reach the level of high art when you approach the very top of the ladder – not only at big-name colleges like Harvard, but also at crème-de-la-crème enterprises of all kinds, from the New York Times to Goldman Sachs to Google, where the job of diversity experts is to provide exactly the right amount and the right type of “diversity” to suit those institutions’ essentially – indeed, fiercely – exclusionary subcultures.
You see, when you’re talking about places like Harvard and Google and the Times, you’re talking about a lofty sociocultural elite with a privileged white establishment at its core. At the Ivies (and at Ivy-adjacent schools like Stanford), the student body consists largely of the privileged offspring of alumni, of faculty, and of a sampling of the world’s rich, glamorous, and powerful. It’s the role of the diversity consultants to mix in just enough of a token sprinkling of underqualified blacks and Latinos to keep these places from looking like apartheid-era Sun City, South Africa, as well as to make the privileged white core look open-minded. But Asians? So many Asians do so terrifically on entrance tests that even to let them in on the scale they’d deserve on sheer merit would totally upset the apple cart. They’d drive out a whole lot of the legacy acceptances and the brats of CEOs and of movie stars. They’d be the stars. They’d be the core.
A few generations ago, Ivy League colleges had strict quotas on Jews to keep them from dominating the student bodies; now Asians are being treated to a somewhat subtler version of the same policy. For example, instead of imposing explicit quotas – how gauche! – Harvard keeps Asian geniuses out by including a “personality score” among its admissions criteria. Applicants are put through a multi-step process, and at every step Asians get low personality scores while blacks get high ones. Voilà! A great candidate magically becomes a poor one, and vice-versa. As Heather Mac Donald showed in her own 2018 book The Diversity Delusion, and as Xu also demonstrates, this phony dodge isn’t doing a favor to either deserving, rejected Asians or underqualified, accepted blacks: as a result of it, brilliant young people who might’ve been able to get started at Harvard or Yale or Princeton on world-changing careers in astronomy or genetics never get that start; meanwhile, underqualified kids fall behind from the git-go – and (studies indicate) would’ve been happier, and more successful, if they’d chosen to attend a perfectly good state university or Historically Black College.
But do Harvard and other top colleges care about the impact of their policies on these applicants? No. Their goal is overwhelmingly selfish, and, as Xu puts it, purely “cosmetic.” Yet in the long term, as Xu notes, affirmative action doesn’t just harm Asians and blacks; it harms the universities themselves, which by refusing to admit on merit, drive top applicants to places, such as the California Institute of Technology, that admit purely on merit. And what’s the result? CIT – with a student body that’s now 48 percent Asian – has climbed rapidly up the international university ratings. It’s now #4 in the world in the QS rankings, ahead of Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and Princeton. (In the top spot is MIT, which initially got its big boost by admitting Jews like Richard Feynman who’d been turned down by the Ivies.) The dirty little secret here, which is less and less of a secret with every passing year, is that the current reputations of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are based far more on their former stature than on their present academic distinction – and are doomed to decline precipitously (and the sooner, the better!) in the years to come.
Xu discusses Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the 2018-19 case that tested Harvard’s admissions policy (and in which Xu played a significant part). David Card, an economist hired to present Harvard’s case, was forced to make the ridiculous argument that Asians do have lower personality skills. Sadly, the ACLU took Harvard’s side. So, shamefully, did the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. And in the end the District Court judge ruled that Harvard doesn’t discriminate against Asians – a flagrantly dishonest verdict. (The case awaits its day in the Supreme Court.) Xu also recounts the recent campaign by Mayor Bill de Blasio to end merit-based admissions at New York City’s specialized public high schools – which, thanks to their admissions policies, have long rosters of spectacularly accomplished alumni, plus a high percentage of Asian students. When Asians stood up to de Blasio, they became the heavies in what he depicted as a virtuous fight for “diversity” and against racism. One NYU professor actually accused Asian students of ruining things for the “truly underprivileged.” Disgusting.
Fortunately, de Blasio’s efforts came to naught. But why, one must ask, do he and other politicians – people who are quick to take the knee, deface streets with BLM “murals,” and weep crocodile tears over black thugs killed while committing felonies – condescend so consistently to decent, honest Asian Americans? Isn’t it precisely because Asians are the model minority? They work hard. They don’t break the law. They don’t riot or threaten. They barely complain – even when they probably should. They never throw their weight around. Where are the Asian American race hustlers? As far as I can see, there aren’t any. Asian Americans, with few exceptions, have never asked for anything from their adopted country except for the freedom to pursue their own dreams. And in pursuit of those dreams, they make major achievements in a range of fields. It’s often been observed that Jews have won Nobel Prizes in the sciences out of all proportion to their numbers; the same goes (although Xu doesn’t mention it) for Asian Americans, who won awards for physics in 1976, 1983, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009, and 2014; for chemistry in 1986, 1987, 2008, 2013, and 2015; and for physiology or medicine in 1968. Yet in reward for these magnificent contributions to American progress, Asians as a group are punished at every turn.
Indeed, after reading Xu’s splendid, maddening book, it’s hard not to conclude that if only Asian Americans created less and destroyed more, were less individualistic and more collectivist, and made their names not by inventing technologies and curing diseases but, say, by singing obscene lyrics about “bitches” and drug deals and life in prison, then the big-city mayors, Ivy League colleges, and blue-chip corporations just might take them a bit more seriously.