AFFIRMATIVE ACTION HAS ALMOST ALWAYS BEEN FRAMED AS A BLACK AND WHITE ISSUE. BUT AS Michigan voters this fall consider the latest Ward Connerly ballot measure, which would prohibit consideration of race and gender in university admissions, it is becoming clear that Asian Americans are hidden in a dangerous blind spot. Although usually excluded from discussions about civil rights, Asian Americans are increasingly introduced as an argument against racial diversity. Yet like all Americans, Asian immigrants and their native-born children benefit from the modest efforts to include everyone in the American Dream.
The misleading claims about Asian Americans are quite common. For example, in the 2003 Supreme Court cases involving the University of Michigan, even though the plaintiffs were White, their legal counsel obtained class action status to represent Asian Americans as well. They asserted that affirmative action harmed not only their Caucasian clients but "especially Asian Americans."
Even scholars who say they support affirmative action repeat this error. Two Princeton University sociologists, who have said they believe that affirmative action is worthwhile, published a widely noticed study last year which stated that Asian Americans at elite college campuses would gain the most seats if Blacks and Latinos lost them.
Like many racial stereotypes, the so-called "model minority" status of Asian Americans contains a germ of truth. Unfortunately, it is exaggerated, distorted and often presented without causes and contexts.
The key finding of the Princeton study is actually that Asian Americans suffer from what law professor Jerry Kang has called "negative action." In truth, Asian Americans are being treated differently--that is, worse--than White applicants with similar qualifications. Asian Americans are held to a higher standard than Whites, without any rationale. Since three White students were admitted for every one African-American or Latino student, it follows that, for Asian Americans, the benefits of ending "negative action" exceeds the benefits of terminating affirmative action.
Another appropriate description of the situation is that Whites are enjoying a form of affirmative action vis-a-vis Asian Americans. So the problem isn't the existence of efforts to achieve a "critical mass" of historically excluded and underrepresented minorities. Rather, the problem is long-standing practices that work to the advantage of Whites and harm Asian Americans. The former is constitutional; the latter, illegal. …