Asian-Americans have finally made it in America. How do we know? Not from their wealth or educational achievements, but from the way progressives now target those in the community who believe people shouldn’t be judged by skin color. For in so doing, these Asian-Americans have exposed a growing fault line in affirmative-action orthodoxy.
The most recent occasion for progressive grievance comes courtesy of the state of Washington. There, Asian-Americans proved instrumental in killing a law that would have overturned a two-decade-old ban on racial preferences in public education, employment and contracting. To do this, Asian-Americans successfully rallied to force the law onto the ballot—and then defeated it.
The ballot referendum in Washington isn’t the first time Asian-Americans have rebelled against an attempt to sneak racial discrimination back into the law. Five years ago, when California considered a law that would have reversed its own ban on racial preferences, a backlash by the Asian-American community forced three Asian-American Democrats who had voted yes in the state Senate to switch sides—dooming the measure. In New York, Asian-Americans are now battling Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid to increase the number of African-American and Latino kids at the city’s specialized high schools—at the expense of Asian-American children. Meanwhile, a high-profile lawsuit brought against Harvard for its race-based admissions preferences is likely to end up before the Supreme Court.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj closed out his 2018 Netflix special by calling the Asian-Americans suing Harvard “the worst kind” of Americans. Playwright Young Jean Lee wrote an op-ed in the New York Times calling the Harvard lawsuit “a cynical manipulation that urges Asian-Americans to sell out other people of color.” In the Nation, Claire Jean Kim says that what we are seeing is “nascent, conservative Chinese immigrant nationalism” combining with “an older, conservative white nationalism” to inflame anti-affirmative-action politics.
Meanwhile Asian-American leaders who contend that affirmative action is doing their community no favors find themselves denounced as sellouts. Wai Wah Chin, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, says this is no different from how blacks and Latinos who also dissent from the progressive party line on race have been treated.
“For many Asian-Americans who mobilized against the Washington ballot initiative,” she says, “it was their first participation in American politics. In the 19th century we had the Chinese Exclusion Acts. In the 21st, we are fighting a modern Asian Exclusion Act.”
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