The Curse of the Model Minority

Cameron Huey is a law student at the University of Cincinatti and a UC Berkeley alumnus. Reply to [email protected]

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As recent surveys revealed, the incoming freshman class this year remains as homogenous as it has been in past few years. However, those that stand to lose the most from a reinstated affirmative action admissions program are not whites, but Asian Americans.

While I was a resident assistant at one of the UC Berkeley residence halls, a resident director told an Asian American RA, "You don't understand racism because you're a model minority."

We were attending a "diversity training" colloquium where a white woman arrived to teach RAs about diversity, a required apportionment of RA training.

What could have been a very compelling dialogue in which people of all backgrounds assembled to learn and welcome one another devolved into an alienating scenario in which RAs were set against one another based on race.

Asian Americans are not liberated from problems in the United States of America. We are still victims of discrimination and brutality from all races. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans pursuant to Executive Order 9066 because of fear of Japanese espionage during World War II. In 1982, Chinese American Vince Chin was killed by autoworkers Michael Nitz and Ronald Ebens, who mistook him for Japanese at an instance when the Japanese auto industries were allegedly causing unemployment in American auto industries and cudgeled him to death with a baseball bat.

More recently, in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Korean American shopkeepers were the prime scapegoats for rioters even though none of the police officers who had beaten Rodney King were Korean American. When Korean American store owners with guns sustained themselves against the rioters, they, not the rioters, were identified as the lawbreakers.

However, none of these can match the the most potent example of injustice against Asian Americans today: affirmative action. Affirmative action, a policy labeled as "diversity" to attract "underrepresented minority" groups bars many qualified Asian applicants from matriculating at universities, a glass ceiling that endeavors to circumscribe the number of Asian Americans from flourishing.

The University of California does not employ affirmative action because of Proposition 209, which increased the number of Asian Americans, but there are groups who would appreciate its revival.

The Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger completely neglected the negative impact upon Asian Americans from discrimination in public establishments and delivered a fatal calamity to the civil rights movement by endorsing discrimination under the guise of "diversity".

The crux of such designs like affirmative action is confirmed by Ronald Takaki in his book "Strangers from a Different Shore" where he explains that the "Asian nerd" stereotype perpetuates nervousness among white parents about Asian American students stealing away their children's' admissions spaces. What Takaki overlooks is that while these affirmative action programs were composed by whites, they are amply sustained by other people of color who analogously view Asian Americans as a menace to equal opportunity.

Some deleteriously assert that Asian Americans receive "white privilege." Pro-affirmative action groups promote positive aspects of affirmative action, like diversity, but omit the negative aspects, namely that Asian Americans are the victims hit most savagely. However, threats to Asian admissions do not collide with hostility by the Asian American community.

Instead, the mind set of many Asian Americans to this day is to concur with affirmative action programs that "help society as a whole;" many even feel guilty because they think that Asian Americans did not have to suffer discrimination.

The most robust argument that many Asian American groups contend with is the allegation that affirmative action will benefit South Asians, Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, all of whom are overrepresented at UC Berkeley, but to a lesser extent than other Asian groups. This has attempted to pit East Asians against South Asians, Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders.

But a pan-Asian identity is more necessary than ever. Although different groups of Asian Americans may feel more or less discriminated by affirmative action, admissions officers see Asians as a monolithic block. Statistics of race never consider Asian groups as different, but instead present the statistic that "Asians/Pacific Islanders" make up more than 40 percent of the campus.

The appeal to have UC Berkeley emulate the state population would mean that only 12.1 percent of its students would be Asian American. If numbers of Asian Americans on campus were that meager, the conglomeration of South Asians, Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders would be much lower than the number on campus presently. The reappearance of affirmative action will negatively impact all Asian groups, not just those that are currently overrepresented.

Affirmative action itself is an amplification of the myth of the model minority. Most people are acquainted with the idea that because Asian Americans are succeeding, they seldom face discrimination and have comparatively few predicaments in society.

Affirmative action is an appendage of this abominable myth that takes it one step further: Because Asian Americans have no predicaments, they should be amenable to sacrificing themselves for the greater good of "diversity." Other minority groups necessitate a handout. Asian Americans, being docile followers, will easily succumb to the erosion of their civil rights for whoever's interests are more important. Our rights are secondary to "diversity" and the interests of other minorities and whites.

Our challenge is to craft an alternative to affirmative action but not demarcate us based on race and not exclusively prevent Asian Americans from receiving equal opportunity.

Adopting socioeconomic affirmative action that helps the poor of all races may be the answer to the debate about how to level the playing field in America.

We need to observe beyond race; while race is still a conspicuous attribute of our character, racial affirmative action in California discriminates solely against Asian Americans and Asian Americans need to stand up for their rights.


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