BY WANG CONGYUE
The Trump administration said in early July that it was abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of promoting diversity in universities, known as affirmative action. It stands against considering race as a factor in the admissions process, proposing race-neutral and merit-based methods.
This decision matters to whether students of different races can acquire education or job opportunities that match their ability. It is also an embodiment of the US’ multiculturalism which reflects freedom, democracy and equality, resonating with the ethos of the American Dream. At a time when US Department of Justice was investigating the suit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants, Trump’s race-blind admissions standard has been hotly discussed. Asian-American applicants were victimized by the racial quota system in US universities, especially in the Ivy Leagues. Whether Trump’s policy could make good on the promise he made is still up for discussion.
Racial quotas were created during the civil rights movement in the 1960s to do away with racial imbalance in US universities. The system introduced minimum enrollments for different races, hoping to narrow the education gap between whites and the ethnic minorities.
However, since the 1980s, some universities have deliberately lowered standards to enroll more black students, which made outstanding students from other races getting rejected. According to an evaluation by Princeton University, Asians need to get 140 points more than whites and 450 points more than blacks in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to get into a famous university.
Although Asian-Americans are diligent and respectful and are even labeled a “model minority” because of their economic status and academic achievements, the compliment will only add to their disappointment at being the “biggest victim of racial quotas.” As the book Race, Rights and the Asian American Experience argues, “US civil rights laws have been framed by a black-white model of race that typically ignores the experiences of Asian-Americans.” Instead of abolishing discrimination, diversity has become a pretext for universities to control the number of Asian-American applicants.
Therefore, the Asian-Americans welcomed Trump’s decision at first. Some thought that Asian-Americans will face no more obstacles in pursuing the American Dream through higher education, and that it’s wise to support the Republican Party. However, we should be cautiously optimistic about Trump’s policy considering his record and the US government’s inconsistent practices.
Trump’s decision has as clear-cut political motives as the George W. Bush era’s race-neutral methods in education. With the midterm elections approaching, the decision can help eliminate the Republican Party’s label of “racists.” Besides, it will also frustrate the Democratic Party and win the support of electorate in the red states. Nonetheless, although the decision of abolishing racial quotas seems to benefit Asian-Americans, Trump may have other intentions considering his decision of ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), move against H-1B visas and ordering deportation of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants.
In American history, the conservatives have always taken advantage of Asian-Americans to hold back the rise of blacks in politics. Creating a “model-minority” goes against the interests of blacks. Mari Matsuda, a professor at the University of Hawaii, tweeted that the US government was playing the “old trick” to “set up every generation of Asians against Black/Brown neighbors.”
Trump’s attitude toward immigrants, crimes and civil right issues all show that his “America First” actually equals “white race first.” To keep his position strong, Trump doesn’t want to confront white supremacist organizations, instead he wants to win political bonus from their support.
All in all, it’s fair to say that the purpose of abolishing racial quotas, which once helped bring diversity to US universities, is to protect the white people’s interests.
Even in the absence of racial quotas, US universities are able to restrict Asian-Americans by using subjective standards such as morality and sociability. Therefore Asian-Americans shouldn’t blindly support the withdrawal of affirmative action. It would be better to promote it in the interest of fair play to shield the interests of other ethnic groups.
(The author is assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. [email protected])