A group representing Asian-American students has filed a federal lawsuit against Harvard University, claiming that the school’s admission process that considers an applicant’s racial background illegally discriminates against Asian Americans.
Is this an anti-discrimination plea or a cynical attack on affirmative action?
That might sound high-minded to some. But when the Trump Justice Department this past summer filed a “statement of interest” supporting the plaintiff’s complaint, those of us who’ve been following the struggle to save affirmative action had an “aha!” moment.
The Harvard lawsuit, now going to trial, was prepared and filed by longtime opponents of affirmative action. It’s a poorly disguised Trojan horse – a cynical use of Asian Americans to slam the door on African Americans.
According to Harvard, the recently admitted class of 2021 is approximately 50 percent white, 15 percent African American, 22 percent Asian American, 11 percent Hispanic, and two percent Native American/Pacific Islander. Harvard concedes that race is among the factors used to achieve a mix of backgrounds needed to enrich the college experience of all.
To maintain that mix, Harvard may turn away a number of Asian Americans who have superior test scores and high school GPAs. Yet several who have been admitted plan to testify that this practice ought not to be used as a weapon against assisting Black youths struggling to overcome centuries of vicious discrimination.
Chinese-American Sally Chen doubtless knows her family has never been traumatized like that of Laquan MacDonald, the Black teen who was killed by 16 shots fired by white policeman Jason Van Dyke in Chicago.
Jang Lee, a Korean American, hasn’t seen friends butchered, as was Trayvon Martin, a Black youth killed by self-appointed neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman in Florida.
The ancestors, family and friends of Thang Dick from Vietnam were never massacred in the USA, as were the pastor and eight Black worshippers at an AME prayer meeting in Charlottesville, South Carolina by white racist Dylann Roof.
So if their percentage of their Harvard class is well beyond their percentage in the U.S. population, and if they’ve not had the violence visited upon them that African Americans have, what exactly is the Asian-American beef?
Known as the “Students for Fair Admission”, the plaintiffs argue that the consideration of race in the admission process simply violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
The Culprit Behind The Scenes
Looming large in the Harvard case is one Edward Blum, a non-lawyer but ardent conservative strategist behind dozens of lawsuits against both affirmative action and civil rights protections.
Several years ago, Blum engineered the Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas lawsuit that challenged an admissions process there that favored African Americans and Latinos. According to the ACLU Justice Program, Blum also was behind the Shelby v. Holder case that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act.
Emory University African-American Studies Professor Carol Anderson, author of White Rage, has written a new book called: One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.
In it, she says of the Shelby ruling…“this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.”
In addition, the ACLU asserts that Blum’s go-to tactic is to orchestrate divisiveness among Blacks and other minorities.
But the elimination of affirmative action will not, ultimately, inure to the benefit of Asian Americans or any other group supposedly put at a disadvantage by these necessary compensations.
The World War II interment of Japanese Americans, the lynching of African Americans, the snatching of Native American land, are all historic efforts in protecting white privilege and power. The unceasing attack on Blacks is the most egregious.
Our fellow white citizens cannot, with plausibility, claim that today’s racist resurgence is the doing of a small cadre of fanatics. Witness the passage by referendum of Proposition 209 in California in 1996.
It attacked affirmative action and the use of race in California colleges’ and universities’ admissions practices. The result was that Black student enrollment at the University of California Berkeley and at UCLA subsequently plummeted by 50 percent.
Affirmative action as we know it was initiated by Executive Order #10925 by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It required government contractors to take “affirmative action” to achieve non-discrimination.
Lyndon Johnson in 1965, with Executive Order #11246, dramatically advanced the cause, triggering an unprecedented level of Black advancement in education, business and employment.
In a June 4, 1965 speech to Howard University, LBJ declared: “You do not take a person, who for years has been hobbled by chains, and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line and say, ‘You are free to compete with all others’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus, it is not enough just to open the gate of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through these gates.”
Today’s opposition to affirmative action conveniently forgets this history, this truth, this realization that white privilege not only exists, but is having a frightening resurgence.
Harvard’s own Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad reminds us, “It is impossible to comprehend American history without understanding slavery’s role in every aspect of its early development.” And author Sven Beckert (Empire of Cotton) points out, “Slave plantations, not railroads, were in fact America’s first big business.”
Does it not follow that if African slaves contributed greatly to the success of American enterprise, even while suffering racial violence for two centuries, that today’s affirmative action is justified in correcting that unfortunate legacy?
This, I believe. That is why in 1969 I helped form a coalition of leaders who shut down over $80 million in Chicago construction projects. Back then, there were hardly any Blacks in the trade unions and no Black contractors on those projects.
Using Executive Order #11246 requiring minority participation in HUD-funded projects, as well as other affirmative action rules, we elevated the issue nationally. We caused passage of Minority Business Utilization laws and Black hiring policies that remain in place today.
Racist Upheaval And The White House
But for how long? That’s why focusing on the Harvard lawsuit and its bogus claims of discrimination against Asians asks all the wrong questions.
It’s a deflection Blum and his ilk want us to take. The real issue is the blatant venom being renewed against African Americans at a time when so many of us thought we were beyond this.
This aggression comes from all sides. FBI data show hate crimes rose the day after Donald Trump was elected. According to the Washington Post, there were more hate crimes reported on November 9, 2016 than any other date that year.
The proximity of these racist upheavals to the current White House occupant appears to be a kind of “permission” to behave in this way. The incendiary rants and tweets from D.C. give license to synagogue massacres, shootings, and other evil acts.
Since that 2016 presidential election, there’s been a veritable parade of hate-inspired plans and attacks against minorities.
Recently, Shane Robert Smith, a white man, was sentenced to more than three years in prison after pleading guilty to forming an armed-to-the-teeth group out to kill Blacks and Jews. Apparently, a like-minded bigot has now achieved that twisted goal at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Also recently, a white man killed two Blacks in a Kentucky Kroger store and parking lot, shouting, “Whites don’t kill whites!”
Yet even these nut cases have their defenders, albeit indirectly, among those who plead that these are tough times for the white people who voted for Enabler-in-Chief Donald Trump. They talk of white disenchantment with the economy and of joblessness, of opioid addiction and of automation.
They explain that many white people feel threatened with becoming a minority in future generations. But to blame this upsurge of racism on automation or the rapid pace of societal change is ludicrous.
There’s an elephant in the room. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The elephant (political symbolism intended) is too big to confront all at once.
The mid-term elections of November 6 are a start. Beyond that, we need to understand what’s happening and explain it to others. We need to fund and organize a voter education program going into 2020.
We need to convene a leadership forum involving veteran allies such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, along with local leaders such as State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and The West Side Justice Center, to assess our current situation and suggest action.
Socially engaged writer Lisa Ko nailed it in the New York Times when she wrote: “Asian Americans have benefited from affirmative action. We continue to be used as a ‘strategic tool’ by white conservatives who are opposed to it. The anti-affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard is a result of a campaign by conservative strategist Edward Blum.”
That’s common ground for Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and others. You don’t need to be a Harvard PhD to realize that being used as a Trojan horse is an insult…if not a white-collar hate crime.
(Paul King is a construction consultant and member of Chicago’s Business Leadership Council.)