Asians Unwelcome: The Model Minority and the Progressive Narrative

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So I got an e-mail from an editor (Peter) of a new youth-oriented political news and commentary site called The DC Writeup and he asked if I could post up some Op-Ed by Josh Xiong called Asians Unwelcome: The Model Minority and the Progressive Narrative which you'll want to give a read if only to hear more voices:

Posted on 27 July 2009 by Josh Xiong via The D.C. Writeup

Back in high school, the unwritten consensus among my Asian peers was that applying to the colleges of our choice would be an exceptionally arduous process. Although the majority of us were applying to selective schools, we knew that we had to exceed the requirements demanded of normal applicants due to our race. This was simply a fact to be acknowledged and shrugged off; an annoying fate to be accepted and endured. Years later, having nearly completed my university career, I am now left with a deep bitterness. This is not due to rejection (I had been accepted at some fine schools, but turned them down for financial reasons), but disillusionment. Having asked some long overdue questions, I have come to the conclusion that the struggles my peers and I faced in the college admissions game were endemic of a much larger problem: a substantial sub-section of America has no desire to see Asian Americans realize the American Dream, and perhaps even a desire to see them fail.

Why do I feel this way, and who am I talking about? First, it is in the interest of every Asian American to ask why, in a country so eager to heal its past racial wounds, the supposedly enlightened wise-men — the academic elite who control the levers of power, class, and social mobility — have decided to cravenly stack the cards against one of its few thriving minority groups.

Young Asian Americans who are striving to succeed and reach their potential have to jump through artificially designed hoops that no other ethnicity in America has to face. In their 2005 study The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities, authors Thomas Epsenshade and Chang Y. Chung of Princeton University conclude that “removing consideration of race would have a minimal effect on white students . . . the white acceptance rate would rise by just 0.5 percentage points,” but “Asian applicants are the biggest winners if race is no longer considered in admissions . . . Asians, who comprised 29.5 percent of total applicants in 1997, would make up 31.5 percent of accepted students in the simulation… compared with an actual proportion of 23.7 percent.” In a 2004 study, Epsenshade, Chung and Walling found that “other things equal, recruited athletes gain an admission bonus worth 200 [SAT] points, while preference for legacy candidates is worth 160 points. Asian-American applicants face a loss equivalent to 50 SAT points.” In her Weekly Standard article “Asians the New Jews?” Jenifer Rubin reveals a finding from John Bunzel and Jeffrey Adu that in 1982 Asian Americans applying to Harvard had to score 112 points higher on the SAT than Caucasians who were admitted.

It might be that the sub-optimal numbers of Asians accepted are simply a byproduct of racial preferences for under-represented minorities. But that would not account for why Caucasians are not equally affected, or why privileged legacy applicants and athletic recruits are given a leg up in admissions. Indeed, a higher standard seems to be in place for Asian applicants, who must not only compete against others but themselves. At a 2006 panel hosted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, one high school guidance counselor stated — to affirmation from many others in attendance — that “counselors feel they have no choice but to mention students’ Asian status and to try to make it seem like their Asian students are different from other Asian students (emphasis added).” Such a statement would ring hollow among members of other minority groups, who often find they have compelling admissions narratives because of their ethnic backgrounds, not in spite of them. Imagine a black or Hispanic student trying to list all the ways in which he or she went against their ethnic tradition. Moreover, the statement implies that Asians are somehow sub-optimal human beings who must transcend their cultural backgrounds if they are to rub shoulders with the best and the brightest. One shudders at how damaging that must be for the self-esteem of young Asian Americans.

To understand why such hardships are meted out to Asian Americans is to understand the people doing the meting. Very few will deny that academia — especially elite academia — is predominantly left wing in its political leanings. Tides of radicalism and moderation come and go, but the pervading ideological base of American scholars remains enduringly progressive. A 2002 survey of Ivy League professors showed that 84 percent voted for Al Gore in the 2000 elections, whereas only 9 percent voted for Bush. One interviewed professor — the Columbia international relations scholar Robert Jervis — admitted, “The [data from the survey] is certainly plausible. Most professors, certainly in the social sciences, are liberal Democrats.” And it is no surprise that the twin aims of Ivy League admissions — “diversity” and racial equality — are safely ensconced in the liberal lexicon.

So what do progressives have against Asians? Perhaps the initial progressive gripe is that Asians lack a compelling identity as a group — i.e., they are boring. Ward Connerly of Minding the Campus reports of one encounter with a University of California admissions officer: “In an unguarded moment, he told me that unless the University took steps to “guide” admissions decisions, UC would be dominated by Asians. When I asked, “What would be wrong with that?” I got an answer that speaks volumes about the underlying philosophy at many universities with regard to Asian enrollment. The UC administrator told me that Asians are “too dull — they study, study, study.” The statement may have come from the individual, but it no doubt reflects a coordinated policy by university officials.

The irony lies in the fact that progressives routinely claim their independence from stereotypes and their unparalleled ability for empathy, and yet in this instance they indulge in a grossly offensive overgeneralization. Proponents of affirmative action might counter that Asian Americans have not faced the kinds of adversity that beneficiaries of affirmative action — blacks and Hispanics — have for generations faced. Of course, this is to hide behind a “veil of ignorance” and wish away a sordid history. These progressives conveniently forget the Asian Americans who were exploited for their backbreaking labor constructing the country’s trans-continental railways; those who were barred from becoming citizens under the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882; or those who endured the seizure of their property and the internment of their persons during the Second World War. They also “forget” that despite the educational and professional success of Asian Americans today, many still come from poor immigrant families — some of whom are still in legal limbo — who must simultaneously work for their future while assimilating into their present environments. If university admissions policies were about redressing past grievances and present adversity, Asian Americans would be getting their “fair share” as well.

I suspect that what really bothers the left about Asian Americans is their success. The progressive narrative is about the oppressive white male — “the Man” — who hordes the country’s wealth and power by keeping minority groups — blacks, Hispanics, women, homosexuals — from self-actualizing and succeeding. If such groups are not thriving, it is because they are systematically disadvantaged. The narrative is so appealing because it is so plausible: just point to America’s legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and female disenfranchisement. The problem lies in the fact that unlike blacks and Hispanics, Asian American success does not conform to the narrative’s predictions. A survey of average SAT scores done by the National Center for Education Statistics found that from 1986 to 2005, Asian Americans, despite immigrant influences, come only second to Caucasians on average verbal scores, and ahead of Blacks, Hispanics, Mexicans, and American Indians. Over the same time-span, Asian Americans have had the highest SAT math averages of all ethnicities, even Caucasians. If the white “Man” is trying to keep a contending ethnic group down, he is not doing a very good job. Such an “inconvenient truth” grates on progressive nerves.

They say that ideology is a blinding force. Perhaps progressives are implementing discriminatory policies as a means to stem the success of Asians, so that the future results will fall more in line with their beliefs. Or perhaps they are afraid that in a merit-based system, large numbers of Asian Americans will rise to places of power and influence without the requisite progressive narrative because they succeeded in spite of “The Man.” I may be simply throwing out conspiracy theories. But I know this much is clear: a body of influential people, largely progressive in their politics, have implemented progressive policies that work against me and my peers in our pursuit of greater educational and social mobility. Such progressive elites refuse to acknowledge the struggles of my people, appreciate the nuances of our experiences, or reward us on our merits. The onus is on them to prove why my conclusions are false.

Yingchen (Josh) Xiong, an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and the senior editor of the Toronto Globalist, is a weekly contributor to the DC Writeup. He blogs at Neocon Blues.