Discrimination Against Asian Americans Reveals the Ugliness of Racial Selection

Two recent events show that our obsession with diversity and racial balancing is leading to substantial discrimination against a minority group—Asian Americans. The first is a lawsuit against Harvard for discriminating against people of Asian descent in admissions. While that suit has not yet come to trial, a note that I along with other Harvard graduates received from President Drew Faust made it clear that the university is girding itself for bad publicity. It complains that the evidence presented will be taken “out of context.” It intones that lawsuit is a threat to  “the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process” and “advances a divisive agenda.”

For all the opaque dudgeon of Faust’s prose, what the note singularly fails to claim is that Harvard does not today discriminate against Asians. That omission is not surprising. Even before trial, we know, for instance, that Berkeley, the most selective college in the California system which is prohibited by law from discriminating, has a class that whose composition is 44 percent of Asian descent—twice that of Harvard. The “integrity” of the undergraduate admissions process today seems to require that Harvard put a cap on the number of Asians just as it once admittedly put a cap on the number of Jews.

This week as well Mayor De Blasio of New York has announced a plan to destroy the best public schools in New York—schools that have been a transmission belt for those of modest incomes to become Nobel Prize winners and leaders across the arts, sciences, law and business. The problem for the Mayor is that these schools have student bodies that do not track the ethnic representation of New York, because they select by examination. And that disproportion is principally on account of the over-representation of Asian Americans. At Stuyvesant, the best of schools, students of Asians descent constitute 65 percent of the class! The mayor’s solution is to eliminate the exam and admit the top seven percent from any grade school although these grade schools themselves have hugely different standards of performance. The result will be to end elite public high school education in New York, as the previous standards of excellence will be impossible to sustain with students of widely differing abilities and preparation.

De Blasio and his school chancellor, being politicians, are less delicate and opaque than Faust. They are clear that the problem with the schools is their wrong racial representation. Indeed, they are so clear that they provide the opportunity for a lawsuit because their plan is the product of racial animus. We will see whether those who believe the Trump travel ban is discriminatory based on campaign statements are willing to express the same concerns about statements by the school chancellor defending official policy and complaining that no one community (i.e. Asian-Americans) should be able to “own these schools.” It is a comment on the relative decency of politicians of a previous era that they did not claim that the Jews thought they owned selective high schools because they gained admission in large numbers on neutral criteria.

These incidents are useful in that they take off the mask of theories of racial representation and show that they result in discrimination against people of modest means and relatively few connections, including particular minorities. These incidents are indeed divisive and happily so, because they will help people of diverse backgrounds recognize the inherent divisiveness of counting by race.