President Trump’s and Attorney General Sessions’ agenda for the nation is often difficult to understand. That was especially true recently when there were rumors that the Department of Justice may be intervening in an issue at Harvard University where Asian Americans have alleged they are discriminated against by the school’s affirmative action policy.
Sometimes the best way to understand something that seems ludicrous is through humor. This section aims to shed some satirical light on the Trump administration’s “agenda” in regards to affirmative action. Imagine as if this were a page in the “Make America Great Again” handbook.
ABSTRACT OF THE CHAPTER: How to End Affirmative Action
If we aim to end or delegitimize affirmative action after a 52-year long existence, we need to obtain a position of power and develop a logical plan. What history taught us is that framing the affirmative action argument as “discriminatory” to White people is a dead end. Most recently, we suffered a loss when a white women sued her university for denying her acceptance because she was white. This case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, went to the Supreme Court and the justices upheld the university’s affirmative action policies. We thought her case was pretty ironic, considering that white women were the first beneficiaries of affirmative action, statistically speaking, so we were disappointed our strategy did not succeed. Of course, even that data should not be trusted, but there is a need to find an alternative strategy to end affirmative action.
The Machiavellian concept of “divide and rule” is the solution. Affirmative action is a questionable doctrine created to help those we have allegedly oppressed, disadvantaged, and left out of the world of higher education. Here’s a glimpse of these groups:
- Native Americans (see chapters “How to encourage racial profiling”, “They took our Columbus Day, how can we take what they have left”)
- Black people (see chapters on “How to encourage racial profiling”, “How to fill your jails and prisons”, “How to establish a segregation 2.0” …)
- Latinos (see chapters on “How to encourage racial profiling”, “How to build a wall”, “How to improve ICE’s hunt”)
- Muslim, Arab, Persian, Sikh, or other people who appear Muslim (see chapters on “How to encourage racial profiling”, “The Ban: How to go beyond instigating fear and marginalizing a population based on their religion”)
- Asian Americans – Seems like we have a growth opportunity here
As there is no mention of Asian Americans in the agenda before this chapter, and after some research, it has been decided that they are the perfect means to our end. A lawsuit was filed in 2015, The Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard against the university’s affirmative action policy. The claim is that Asian American applicants are being discriminated against during the admission process, similar to the claim of White people.
This case brings an opportunity to finally put an end to affirmative action and make America great again. The administration has at its disposal an extraordinary means to achieve this end: the Department of Justice. Its mission, among many things, is to defend the interests of the country and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for Americans. Thus, the Justice Department’s civil rights division can aid us in investigating, and if necessary, suing universities over “intentional race-based discrimination” during admission processes. Worst case scenario: we won’t have a successful lawsuit, but at least we will have once again split communities that should be united; and best case scenario: we will create a precedent, forbidding universities from using affirmative action to help fight against inequity for women and people of color.
END OF THE ABSTRACT OF THE CHAPTER: How to End Affirmative Action
While the above section is a parody of what could have or might have happened in Trump’s administration, this issue has several real concerns:
The lawsuit argument in brief:
It is important to know what is at stake with the 2015 lawsuit against Harvard. The plaintiffs’ claim is based on two arguments: the existence of an “Asian Tax”, the alleged 140 point SAT score above the standard score necessary for Asian Americans to enter private colleges, and the application of illegal quotas. In this scenario, even though more Asian-Americans apply, they are accepted at the same rate year after year.
Asian-Americans feel that the system is punishing over-achievement, and giving preferential treatment to other racial minorities. The latest argument is a controversial stance as Asian Americans is not a homogenous community and this threatens to pit different groups of people against one another.
However, this is not to dismiss Asian Americans’ concerns that need to be heard and addressed. Moreover, we must pay more attention to the narratives and the attempts to use Asian Americans as a means to an end. This philosophy is not about helping one group; it’s about ending affirmative action.
“Fool me once, shame on you…”
Who are Students for Fair Admission and Project on Fair Admission? Students for Fair Admission, one of the organizations lodging the 2015 lawsuit against Harvard has an interesting background. They were supporting Abigail Fisher - the White woman who sued the University of Texas (Fisher v. University of Texas) - and have filed a lawsuit in Texas state court this year against University of Texas Austin’s policy on racial preferences in admissions. Edward Blum, who created this non-profit, is also the director of the Project on Fair Representation a “not-for-profit legal defense fund program.” The aim of the program is to “challenge racial and ethnic classifications and preferences.” The Project on Fair Representation filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Abigail Fisher in Fisher v. University of Texas, and also was involved with the work on the Harvard lawsuit. Those two organizations have launched fierce advocacy campaigns to end affirmative action entirely.
“Fool me twice, shame on me”
The reason why Trump’s administration is getting involved in that discussion is NOT about helping the Asian American community: it is political opportunism.
First of all, the different initiatives led by the President since he came to office, primarily targeting minorities, have resulted in marginalization of various communities. To mention some of them: the Muslim ban, the transgender ban in the military, increasing immigration deportations and more power granted to ICE forces, DACA, and the militarization of the police. Thus, it’s hard to imagine this investigation on “intentional race-based discrimination” is intended to advance Asian American rights – whom they ignore in other situations –, but a way to undermine yet another policy that worked for the advancement of women and people of color. The President should serve all people, but as we’ve seen from the administration’s policies, his vision for America is not inclusive.
Secondly, the New York Time reported that the investigation would not be led by career civil servants, but by political appointees. The framework for this investigation leads people to believe that the project does not aim to favor the American educational system, but the political agenda of one man.
Race conscious v. Race based discrimination
The Supreme Court does not abide to direct racial quotas and race-based point systems. However, the Court does not condemn affirmative action, and has ruled mostly in its favor regarding college applications. As a diverse student body has proven to have educational benefits, the Supreme Court encourages colleges to holistically review all applications. Meaning that race is one of the many factors reviewed during admissions for each applications, in addition to SAT, extra-curricular activities, etc., It is not the first criteria of selection and not the only one, but it is a factor that admission officers have to be aware of in order to create a diverse body and ensure that students who are less likely to have access to higher education should also have a chance to attend.
However the description of affirmative action as “intentional race-based discrimination” rather than “race conscious” by the DOJ, reveals the biases that the leaders of the investigation already have going into this.
What about legacy admissions policies?
Those policies do not have strict rules written in marble, however they tend to prevail in several elite universities. This admission process favors children of alumni. Thus, an entire family lineage can attend those universities based on the “legacy” principle.
Two thoughts, first this practices excludes students who lack a prestigious family background, especially minorities; and secondly, this kind of discriminatory behavior ensures a continuity in the distribution of power.
“We do not need Affirmative Action anymore.” True or False?
False. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, and anti-Asian immigration laws may seem like different eras, but saying that the United States is now free of systematic racism would be a lie. Somehow injustice, systemic exclusion, and racism have been made invisible to most of our society; it would seem that the advancement of few members of a minority group has been enough to justify the end of the movement for equality. As an example, in 2008, some saw the Presidential election of Barack Obama as a transition into a post racial era; but as we’ve seen since the Presidential election of Donald Trump, through Charlottesville and beyond, systematic racism is not over, and we need to focus on it. The same theory holds when regarding Asian Americans, the advancement of a few might overshadow the majority. For example, Laotian and Cambodian Asian-Americans may have a much different experience in the U.S. than Chinese-Americans.
“Affirmative action takes jobs and university acceptances from White people to give it to unqualified minorities.” True or False?
False. Individuals in a minority group should not be systematically associated as unqualified or in the case of Asian Americans, overqualified. Affirmative action makes race one of the many factors used to assess the application of a candidate, and among the other factors are those justifying the candidate’s qualifications.
People arguing that affirmative action gives people of color an advantage over white people do not realize that the system rooted in our society will most likely privilege people corresponding to the dominant group of the society no matter what. Then, our society itself is actually preventing minorities to have access to some jobs and university spots. This is not about taking something away from a group to give it to another, it is about creating opportunities for disadvantaged groups. And the fact that those groups are racially divided, comes from a society that constructed a set of biases, prejudices, social and economic situations that continue to impact several minority groups. Affirmative action has never been about undermining White people, but to diminish racial disparities and create equitable conditions not solely at schools and universities, but also at work.
Student for Fair Admissions lawsuit has re-introduced the issue of affirmative action to the public, but hopefully this will stir a conversation about two subjects: how to upgrade and enhance affirmative action, and how to address educational inequity in the US.
* Julie Vainqueur, is a Humanity In Action Fellow (HIA) at the ACLU of Ohio. She graduated from the Sciences Po Paris with a degree in international public management, focusing on human rights, communication and advocacy. Prior to coming to the ACLU, Julie has served with various human rights and development organizations such as International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), UN Women Tanzania and AFD (French development agency), but also international private communication companies.