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Affirmative Action’s Asian-American Watershed

This month, California tried and failed to partially reinstate the affirmative action programs outlawed by Ward Connerly’s 1996 Proposition 209 ballot initiative. But it wasn’t “white backlash” or Republican intransigence that led to this unexpected result.

California lawmakers seemed poised to advance a constitutional amendment allowing the state’s universities to consider race in admissions. Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which easily passed the Democratic-controlled Senate, would have exempted universities from Prop 209’s edict: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

In the end, it was the Democrats—for the most part, the party that really matters in California state politics—who folded on SCA 5. And it was Chinese-Americans who were the pivotal group in the measure’s defeat.

Olivia Liao, president of the Joint Chinese University Alumni Association, was quoted in the local press describing the initiative as racist. “[Legislators] feel like the Chinese-American community isn’t paying attention to politics,” Liao said, according to [1] the Pasadena Star News. “We are concerned citizens. We need to stand up when things are not right; we need to be heard. We shouldn’t have any [exceptions)] related to race. After all, America is a free country.”

The newspaper also quoted Marina Tse speaking out against SCA 5. “It has a negative impact on high-performing students and Chinese students,” Tse said. “We need to put merit and academic performance as a priority.”

These sound like familiar conservative arguments against racial preferences. But many of the organizations that worked against SCA 5 were anything but conventional conservative groups. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the Southern California Council of Chinese Schools, and the Taiwan Benevolent Association are pretty distinguishable from Tea Party Express. The 80-20 Initiative—perhaps best known for getting late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel to apologize for an anti-Chinese crack made on his show—straightforwardly advocates for more Asian-American representation.

In fact, 80-20 has complained [2] that Asian Americans are underrepresented in corporate management positions, federal judgeships, and even Bill Clinton’s 1990s Cabinet that reputedly looked like America. While that makes them sound like affirmative action supporters, junking or weakening Proposition 209 could well reduce the Asian-American presence in California universities. About 38 percent of UC undergraduates are currently Asian Americans.

Three Asian-American Democratic state senators reconsidered their support for SCA 5 after receiving “thousands of calls and emails from fearful constituents who believe that any move to favor other ethnic groups could hurt Asian-Americans,” according to [3] the San Jose Mercury-News.

“I’ve gotten calls from parents alleging there will be a quota system and that their kids will never be able to get into college, and that’s totally inaccurate,” complained SCA 5 author Ed Hernandez, a Democratic state senator. Hernandez has denied that his proposal represents affirmative action.

But the Democrats soon threw in the towel. “It really is driven most by my interest in making sure we come out with the best policy outcomes,” Assembly Speaker John Perez said [4] of his decision to pull the plug on the measure. “And as it’s currently written I don’t think SCA 5 gives us that.”

SCA 5 does give us a glimpse of how politics can get more complicated than the “Rainbow Coalition” envisioned by Jesse Jackson and cobbled into national popular majorities by Barack Obama in two elections.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this in California. When the state passed another controversial ballot initiative banning taxpayer monies to illegal immigrants, Proposition 187, 64 percent of whites voted in favor—as did 57 percent of Asians and 56 percent of blacks. A large majority of Latino voters was on the other side.

Other than Pete Wilson, who came from behind to win a second term as governor partly on the strength of the ideas ranging from Prop 187 and Prop 209, Republicans were unable to capitalize.

Who is to say they will forever be so inept? As recently as 1992, George H.W. Bush won 55 percent of the Asian vote—his second-best demographic behind white evangelical Christians—despite winning just 38 percent of the popular vote overall. (To put this in perspective, a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won a majority of the black vote since 1932.)

Twenty years later, Mitt Romney lost the Asian vote by a bigger margin than the Hispanic vote [5]. One plausible explanation [6] is that on values issues, the educated and affluent Asian voter is closer to secular white liberals than those evangelical Christians.

Affirmative action may not be the issue that changes all that, but it’s an interesting case. Meanwhile, diversity may diversify the Democratic coalition in more ways than skin color.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? [7]

Follow @jimantle [8]

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "Affirmative Action’s Asian-American Watershed"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 24, 2014 @ 2:59 am

[9]

I could not find an amended version of the legislation.

#2 Comment By Puller58 On March 24, 2014 @ 7:37 am

John Wayne’s spoken word record, “The Hyphenated American” is a pretty good summation of the follow of obsessing over ethnic/racial identity.

#3 Comment By Michael N Moore On March 24, 2014 @ 8:20 am

Personally, while I applaud the hard work of Chinese Americans, I really don’t want a bunch of uncultured nerds running our society.

The Northeast WASP has elite has defaulted and is always looking for caretakers for their interests among US minority groups. The Chinese seem have been chosen as the replacement or back-up crew for the descendants of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. This is possibly a prelude to dumping Israel, which has become an obstacle to advancing into World markets.

#4 Comment By libertarian jerry On March 24, 2014 @ 8:35 am

America became great because we were a nation of individuals who were not restrained by the old tribal wars of Europe. We grew and prospered not as a nation of groups but a nation of individual initiatives. Group identity,diversity and group warfare is one of the ways that the Progressives(socialists)have used Cultural Marxist methods to divide and conquer America. To identify people as groups or classes,not as individuals,and then to pit one group against another. While,at the same time,one’s eye is taken off the real enemy of America which are the Elitists and Globalists,behind the scenes,who wish to rule us. So,while at the same time,one “community” is pitted against another “community” everyone’s rights are being eroded to the point where all are becoming nothing but serfs to the elites. In the end,the real losers aren’t one “community” or one “group” but the whole of productive Americans.

#5 Comment By tomfinn On March 24, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

This issue is going to bring more and more headaches in future years. As you guys at AC know, your own man Ron Unz wrote an excellent essay (actually two essays, because the one about Social Darwinism in China is also pertinent) on the subject some months ago. Without a doubt, there is heavy-duty discrimination against Asian students in some Ivy League universities. There are informal quotas. Here is why.

About a century ago, many thousands of Ashkenazi Eastern European Jews arrived on the east coast of America. These Jews had lived in cities for centuries, and were heavily “bourgeois” (in a non-Marxist sense). Now, the origins of the bourgeois (or middle class) mentality can be traced back to the medieval cities and the Puritan (pro-Old Testament) sects of the post-Reformation. So the Jews really found themselves right at home in bourgeois America. They proceeded to do the bourgeois thing, and do it well. The WASPs imposed informal quotas in various places to try to, essentially, prevent the dissipation of their influence – because the rules of the game in America were bourgeois rules, and the Jews played by the rules and played to win. Eventually, the quotas fell, and the Jewish community has been ultra-influential in the post-WW2 United States.

Now, a century after the Ashkenazi diaspora, a similar process is occurring with regard to the Chinese. As Unz pointed out, many Asians are vociferously bourgeois (think of the Tiger Moms). So by the current “meritocratic” rules in the West, if given the opportunity, these Asians will inevitably conquer the universities, and then various high-level positions of power. This will damage the privileged historical positions of various ethnic and cultural groups. The Jews are particularly affected by the development, and hence we’ve been seeing articles with titles along the lines of “Are the Chinese the New Jews?” In Canada, the flagship national university – the U of T – is already notoriously dominated by Asians.

Meanwhile, the Jews were reasonably tolerable to WASP-types, because, at the end of the day, Protestantism tends to emphasize the Old Testament; and Ashkenazi Jews are “Caucasians.” With the Asians, the cultural-religious link is absent, and the racial division lines are clearly apparent. Thus racial tensions will inevitably arise. Chinese men&women typically look down on whites when talking amongst themselves, and whites tend to resent the Chinese attitude of play-to-win-by-all-means.

That’s a part of what’s going on. The issue is sensitive, and I apologize if I have offended anyone – I only meant to try to describe the current state of affairs. What will happen in the future, and what should we want to happen? That’s not for me to say.

#6 Comment By Hooly On March 24, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

“About 38 percent of UC undergraduates are currently Asian Americans.”

That is still too low, further evidence of discrimination against Asians. It should be more like 98% if all forms of bias are eliminated.

#7 Comment By Lukas On March 24, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

When it comes to affirmative action, its greatest crime is the stupidity and ignorance that it is its foundation. Its completely political and rife with political correctness.

Women are in the military, yet woman do not register for selective service to receive financial aid as a precondition. Boys must!

If you are in an career field over-represented by gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc…there is no question of affirmative action to disadvantage them so others may be advantaged. Why, because they are minorities.

If you are white, male or christian which is the politically correct majority then there is no discussion about how to disadvantage them even if they are disadvantaged.

Either the political correctness and politics are removed and people are disadvantaged/advantaged based on need/merit or the whole thing is a corrupt farce.

And immigration is yet another farce. Is it really fair to say to US citizens who came here in the 1880s thru 1920s to dig canals and build railroads and mine coal fields that their children deserve to struggle in failing schools and deserve to complete financially with immigrants who come here and receive a plethera of social safety net benefits.

come off it! We in the poor and middle class americans are sick and tired of all the freebies our nation gives away to give a helping hand to those who dont belong in this country and then burden the poor and middle class with buracracy and obstacles.

#8 Comment By SFBay2 On March 24, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

California did not collectively attempt to bring back affirmative action; some California legislators attempted to bring it back, but it never had a chance.

The REAL question that conservatives want to avoid: why do so many Red states still allow their universities to employ race-based affirmative action? And even fight to preserve them in court?

California threw AA on the ash heap of history almost 20 years ago. Texas, Georgia, etc have yet to develop the cajones to do the same. Hypocrites, get the logs out of your own eyes.

#9 Comment By Rousseau On March 24, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

Whites support a meritocratic state as long as they are the ones at (or near) the top. As Asians pull further ahead watch for the decline of white support for higher education. People like to believe they are not tribal, but it just isn’t so.

#10 Comment By cka2nd On March 24, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

Yes, yes, Jim, Blacks and the white working class generally oppose an open door immigration system, and Blacks and Latinos are generally more socially conservative than whites, and now Chinese-Americans are coming out against affirmative action. But I still wouldn’t bet on the GOP being able to cherry pick any of these communities from the equally loathesome Democratic Party for more than an election or two.

Of course, what progressives should be pushing, in both California and New York – where reinstating financial aid to prisoners to attend college courses inside got shot down in the polls right quick – is to push to go back to the days of free or very low tuition public colleges and universities and not to go down the same high-tuition path of the private higher education system.

But no, building a free public higher education system was the WRONG thing to do, according to the Modern Church of Friedman and Rand (although I wouldn’t be shocked if the Prophet Milton was actually okay with the idea), no matter how popular the idea, and practice, was 100 years ago.

#11 Comment By cka2nd On March 24, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

The reaction of the Chinese-American community is, of course, less related to their traditional position on affirmative action than it is to keeping the door open to the UC system in an age of austeriy and cutbacks and tuition increases that is already scaring them, and the middle class in general, out of their minds. If unemployment was less and wages higher, or if the UC system charged nothing for in-state residents, how much do you want to bet that these protests would have been, oh, 90% smaller?

#12 Comment By Rossbach On March 24, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

The GOP leadership has already swung behind the Democratic Party holy trinity of mass immigration (including amnesty), multiculturalism (including affirmative action), and political correctness (“civil” speech). It will take a major defection by the party base in the next election to show them the error of this decision.

#13 Comment By Irene On March 24, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

“SCA 5 does give us a glimpse of how politics can get more complicated than the “Rainbow Coalition” envisioned by Jesse Jackson and cobbled into national popular majorities by Barack Obama in two elections.”

Diversity and multiculturalism create havoc. They do not strengthen a country. A small amount might be good, but it doesn’t take long to reach a point of diminishing returns.

#14 Comment By Escher On March 24, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

The same Chinese-American community is no doubt taking full advantage of its minority status while applying for small business grants and other government largesse.

#15 Comment By PolishKnight On March 24, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

What the past 50 years of so-called civil rights legislation has taught us is that racism (and sexism) has not been reduced in this country whatsoever but rather redone or redirected and even amplified. The only ones who appear to be somewhat non-racist are ideological conservatives seeking a “color blind” society but the rest of whites and men are mostly riddled with guilt or hypocrites about the issue which isn’t color blindness but rather cowardice.

Since racism isn’t going away and is even celebrated with “diversity” when non-white and female companies are run by and discriminate in favor of their groups, then perhaps it’s time to just throw in the towel on the whole charade?

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 25, 2014 @ 12:43 am

Reading the history of of people is ever so tiresome. One would think that CA would have been plagued with color discrimination — but the record is quite clear how it segregated certain populations and by so doing cornered them into legacies of denied access that regardless of intact families, good manners and cultural maintenance were keys enough to unlock those doors.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 25, 2014 @ 12:50 am

“America became great because we were a nation of individuals who were not restrained by the old tribal wars of Europe. We grew and prospered not as a nation of groups but a nation of individual initiatives. Group identity,diversity and group warfare is one of the ways that the Progressives(socialists)have used Cultural Marxist methods to divide and conquer America. ”

As a conservative, I like to see the country as it is. And the notion of a country built minus ethnic loyalties, or color loyalties or regional loyalties. And while I am quite accustomed to these fairy tales of american dynamics.

I don’t cotton to progressives, or Marxists, but I don’t like my history coated with fairy sugar dust either. Now if people want push back against the frame of color, ethnicity, status, power and wealthy in lilieu of something more accurate — say being a citizen trumps all else, that’s fine, well and good.

But the american choo choo described above I will not board.

#18 Comment By Spengler On March 25, 2014 @ 2:19 am

What would make much more sense would be to have affirmative action based on ones economic background, a african american male from a south side of chicago, or a white girl from the rural ghetto called Appalachia are both likely facing the same circumstances against going beyond their situations so should one be favored over the other?

#19 Comment By RadicalCenter On March 25, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

Rousseau: excellent point. But my bet is still that whites, Asians, and a growing number of white/Asian people (like my children) will tend to dominate competition in the more difficult academic subjects and in the marketplace.

Another alternative is that Mexicans continue gradually to gain control over government employment/hiring in many States, counties, and cities, intentionally shutting qualified non-Mexicans out of as many jobs as they can. From our vantagepoint here in California, that would not be surprising either.

#20 Comment By M_Young On March 25, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

“California threw AA on the ash heap of history almost 20 years ago. “

And yet 10 years ago, UCLA admits who were Asian and Caucasian had roughly 100 points higher scores on SATs than black admits, and 50 points higher scores than Latino admits (on average, of course).

#21 Comment By M_Young On March 25, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

“Whites support a meritocratic state as long as they are the ones at (or near) the top. As Asians pull further ahead watch for the decline of white support for higher education. People like to believe they are not tribal, but it just isn’t so.”

Well, there has been mass immigration and Asian overrepresentation at UCs for 30 or so years now, and whites haven’t pushed for changes to the system to benefit their own children.

And of course, there is the question of the ‘merit’ in meritocracy. Do the white parents and grandparents who paid for the UC system merit seeing their children have the possibility of admission to the institutions they, for the most part, paid for? And what has been the ‘merit’ of the Asian dominance at UC? I can’t see that our rate of technological improvement is any faster now than it was 20-30-40 years ago. In fact, in many key areas, it seems to have slowed down. We went from Kittyhawk to Tranquility base in 70 years–now we can’t even maintain a space shuttle.

#22 Comment By Cavin Dell On March 25, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

I agree that Blacks should have some part of the AA. They do have a history, unfair and may still hurt their Children now.
I don’t know why Latinos have anything to do with AA. 1, they are not minority in CA, by population, they are majority. 2. They don’t have any people working against them in US history. 3. They are not discriminated against. Actually, latino is a self identification and not a race. Many of Latinos can easily pass for Caucasians until they check that box in college application. Take Zimmerman case for example, isn’t he considered white until he said he is latino?
Note for white kids: if SCA5 passed, just check that box in your application and try to find an great uncle who lived in Brazil decades ago.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 26, 2014 @ 9:07 pm

“Well, there has been mass immigration and Asian overrepresentation at UCs for 30 or so years now, and whites haven’t pushed for changes to the system to benefit their own children.”

I hate to interject the controversial here. But in repeated studies and surveys on “race’ asians are considered white and the same hold true for data collection when it pertains to hispanics.

They carry none of the baggage slavery or ‘native american removal policies’ had. It’s an easy incorporation. The high context nature of asian and hispanic communities sits very well to accommodating notions of superiority.

And that is what we are really talking about. Who tilts the comfort meter the least.

#24 Comment By Kevin On March 26, 2014 @ 10:34 pm

“Well, there has been mass immigration and Asian overrepresentation at UCs for 30 or so years now, and whites haven’t pushed for changes to the system to benefit their own children.”
Actually, Asians only appear to be overrepresented if you narrowly compare the general population to the admitted population. When you focus on the population of high achieving students, they are in fact underrepresented.

“And of course, there is the question of the ‘merit’ in meritocracy. Do the white parents and grandparents who paid for the UC system merit seeing their children have the possibility of admission to the institutions they, for the most part, paid for?”
Excuse me? Asians pay tuition and taxes like everybody else. If you think whites deserve more spots in UCs because their ancestors helped build it, let me know your plan to compensate the descendants of slaves.

“And what has been the ‘merit’ of the Asian dominance at UC? I can’t see that our rate of technological improvement is any faster now than it was 20-30-40 years ago. In fact, in many key areas, it seems to have slowed down. We went from Kittyhawk to Tranquility base in 70 years–now we can’t even maintain a space shuttle.”
Ah, yes. Clearly this alleged slowdown in technological progress should be attributed to Asians in UCs instead of a lack of strong government commitment to the space program.

#25 Comment By ProudUC84 On March 31, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

I’ve come around. We should not oppose SCA5, and allow it onto the ballot. Let’s let the voters decide again, whether they favor race-based favoritism, whether they favor equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

Affirmative Action, as originally intended and practiced, was all about proactively removing racial bias from the system, ridding society of overt, institutionalized, or subversive racial discrimination. It was never intended to give some groups an advantage over other group. The term Affirmative Action has been hijacked to mean race, gender, etc, based PREFERENCE.

So, let the voters decide whether they stand for equality of opportunity, or institutionalized bias in favor of specific groups.

On the ballot, SCA5 will expose the hypocricy and divisive agenda of those promoting it.

I’m confident of the outcome. I believe in the collective intelligence, wisdom and fariness of California voters

#26 Comment By Brett Champion On April 12, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

The use of affirmative action in higher education (especially in places like California) is an attempt to use a legal solution to solve a cultural problem. In other words, affirmative action merely treats the effect of the problem, not its cause.

The cultural problem isn’t confined to racial minorities either. In fact, it’s a not a racial problem at all, it’s a socioeconomic one. Many people who come from lower-income families (especially ones that are not immigrant families from Asia) have a disdain for intellect and educational achievement that locks them out of higher education and into low-wage employment, if they can find employment at all (or even have the inclination to try).

If you really want to solve the problem of low African and Hispanic American enrollment in elite universities, then you’ll have to solve the real problem first. If you succeed in getting African and Hispanic Americans to take educational achievement as seriously as do most Asian Americans and middle-class European Americans, then you will most likely find that the underenrollment of African and Hispanic Americans in elite universities will mysteriously have vanished all on its own.

#27 Comment By Kathy Californian On May 24, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

The conversation about Asian Americans and affirmative action cannot occur without first acknowledging the diversity of the Asian American experience, history, and reality. For example, the realities, roadblocks, and privileges of a Cambodian American student born in a refugee camp during the 80’s, a fifth generation Japanese American student whose parents were raised in internment camps, and a 2nd generation Korean American student whose parents came to this country with money and education (mine, in fact) vary widely. We need to start disaggregating the data when we talk about the impact of affirmative action (or post affirmative action) when it comes to Asian Americans in our California universities. The aggregated numbers of Asian Americans in the UC System may look healthy from a macro level, but the details in those numbers tell an entirely different story. Based on ethnicity, the students with the lowest graduation rates at UC Berkeley are Pacific Islanders, with lower 6 year graduation rates than Black or Latino students. Similarly lower rates are true for Southeast Asian students, as well as for the newer generations of low income immigrant students from East Asia. But when averaged in with the aggregated numbers, those realities are entirely ignored. It would be nice to believe Tse’s comment about the system working on a meritocracy… but that assumes a great deal about our country… it assumes there is a true and fair meritocracy, where anyone from any background has equal opportunity to earn merit… such a reality is not one that I see in this country today. I will be the first to admit that not all affirmative action programs are valuable or even equitable. However, I do not see how you can oppose all affirmative action strategies (regardless of your race or ethnicity) if you recognize that our society is fraught with inequality and does not allow for an inclusive meritocracy. As the daughter of upper class, well-educated Korean immigrants, I will stand with white allies and folks of color who continue to consider strategies to challenge a system that perpetuates inequities.