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Affirmative action ruling: Some Asian Americans feel like ‘pawns’ of white supremacy

By Lee Cleveland - June 30, 2023

The Supreme Court ruling that struck down affirmative action has sparked a significant response from Asian American groups and leaders across the United States. While affirmative action policies have played a crucial role in promoting access to higher education for Asian Americans, the recent decision has been met with concerns regarding its impact on civil rights and equality.

The Use of Asian Americans as Pawns
“The white supremacist agendas behind these lawsuits use the small number of Asian Americans against affirmative action as pawns in their efforts — weaponizing the model minority myth to divide our communities,” the nonprofit Georgia-based group Asian American Advocacy Fund said in a news release.

“Affirmative action policies have played an important role in securing Asian American access to higher education.”

Affirmative Action and Asian American Support
Polling data indicates that a majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action.

A survey conducted by APIAVote found that 69% of registered Asian American voters favored affirmative action programs designed to provide better access to higher education for Black people, women, and other minorities.

These findings highlight the nuanced perspectives within the Asian American community and challenge the notion of unanimous opposition to affirmative action.

Support for the Ruling
While many Asian American groups expressed concern about the ruling, some individuals, like Rep. Michelle Steel (R), voiced support. Rep. Steel emphasized the importance of individual actions determining success rather than race and ethnicity.

“I am living my American Dream because, in this country, your actions determine your success- not your race and ethnicity,” she wrote on Twitter

However, critics argue that characterizing race-conscious admissions as harmful to Asian Americans overlooks the underlying goal of addressing racial inequity and advancing diversity.

Addressing Racial Inequity
Advocates emphasize that addressing racial inequity and promoting diversity does not disadvantage any specific group. Sally Chen, the education equity program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, raises concerns about the portrayal of race-conscious admissions’ impact on Asian Americans throughout the case. She asserts that efforts to address inequity and segregation should not be framed as harmful to Asian Americans but rather as vital steps toward equality.

Disproportionate Impact on Underrepresented Communities
Representatives of Asian Americans Advancing Justice highlight the anti-Black nature of the decision and argue that it perpetuates systemic racism in higher education.

They also underscore the potential disproportionate impact on underrepresented communities within the Asian American Pacific Islander umbrella, such as Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians, and Southeast Asian communities.

These groups face significant barriers to higher education, and the ruling is expected to exacerbate those challenges.

The ruling against affirmative action raises concerns about its potential consequences for underrepresented communities. Rep. Judy Chu, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, points out that while the end of race-conscious admissions may not significantly change Asian American acceptances at elite institutions, it could create additional hurdles for low-income, refugee, and Indigenous Asian American students. This realization underscores the importance of race-conscious admissions in creating opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Holding Colleges Accountable
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, advocates remain committed to holding colleges accountable for ensuring diversity on their campuses and fair admissions processes. John C. Yang, the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, expresses outrage at the Court’s decision, emphasizing the need to continue pushing colleges, universities, Congress, and others to prevent the ruling from undermining the progress made in achieving equality.

Creating Opportunities for Students of Color
While the ruling presents a setback for achieving equality in education, organizations like Chinese for Affirmative Action stress the importance of recognizing the limitations of the decision. They highlight that it solely pertains to race-conscious admissions and does not invalidate other crucial measures such as targeted outreach, recruitment efforts, diverse faculty representation, and inclusive college leadership. These organizations remain dedicated to creating opportunities for students of color who are striving to pursue higher education.

Applying to Elite Schools
Experts advise students of color, including Asian Americans, to continue applying to elite schools despite the ruling. The decision by the Supreme Court does not reflect the majority of Americans’ support for affirmative action. Communities of color are encouraged to remain resilient and united, despite attempts to perpetuate white supremacy and uphold existing power structures.

The Strength of Communities of Color
In conclusion, the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action has elicited diverse reactions within the Asian American community and beyond.

While some Asian Americans express support for the decision, many argue that the ruling uses the Asian American community as pawns in undermining civil rights.

Affirmative action has played a crucial role in promoting access to higher education for Asian Americans and addressing racial inequity. The ruling raises concerns about its impact on underrepresented communities and underscores the need for continued efforts to create equality in education.