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Chinese overseas

Asian-Americans still need affirmative action if they wish to succeed

  • Daniel Lu says WeChat debates about the Harvard lawsuit and affirmative action are dividing the Chinese-American community
  • Opponents of affirmative action should know the racism that plagues other minorities also hurts Asian-Americans
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 12:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 2:04am

After the 2016 US presidential election, WeChat took on a new centrality in my mum’s life. What used to be a way for her to keep in touch with me suddenly became the site of intense political debates. Every day, my mum would argue with old friends about everything from the dangers of owning a gun to the importance of trans bathroom rights.

Today, affirmative action has emerged as one of the most contentious issues in my mum’s social network. As the lawsuit against Harvard University presses on – the case highlights Asian-Americans as alleged victims of racial discrimination – my mother’s community of Chinese-Americans is tearing itself apart. 

While her friends oppose affirmative action, my mum and I are among the 60 per cent who support it. Our community is deeply divided, yet we all want the same things: fairness and a better future for our children.

My parents immigrated to the US from China, and raised my sister and me in a well-off, predominantly white suburb of Boston. Growing up in such an environment, where we were excluded and made to feel like we didn’t belong, it is easy to feel like life is still unfair for Asian-Americans.

First-generation Asian immigrant parents, perhaps some of the most vocal supporters of the lawsuit, sacrificed and struggled a lot to build lives here. But, whereas their vision of success includes a prestigious education, others of their generation and most second-generation immigrants like myself see success as more than a matter of personal gain.

On WeChat, these differences in opinion are shouted at my mum: “It’s just unfair if my kid earns better grades, better SAT scores, and loses his spot. It’s discrimination!”

Her friends invoke Martin Luther King Jnr.: “I have a dream that my children won’t be judged by the colour of their skin.” They say that, by working so hard, their kids “shouldn’t be denied opportunities since they deserve the highest quality education”.

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So many of these arguments on WeChat are about fairness and family. As Chinese-Americans, with a culture rooted in meritocracy and familial ties, it makes sense. My mum and I care about the same things.

That’s why we wholeheartedly support affirmative action. In fact, she and some others have started their own group fighting to defend affirmative action on the app.

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My mum and her group say they just have “totally opposite views” from their opponents. When someone claims that “affirmative action prevents Chinese-Americans from getting the best education”, my mum responds that “diversity creates a richer learning environment for all students, including Chinese students”.

Even after months of arguments, other Chinese parents on WeChat still think affirmative action is unfair. They say, “Chinese people should be considered white because they have similar IQ and values.”

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To guarantee any sort of fairness in American society, every Asian-American WeChatter needs to understand that the same racism which plagues every other minority also hurts us.

Ironically, the very institutions that many opponents of affirmative action want their kids to attend have taught us that their vision of conventional success is a losing strategy: systemic racism is real and we need to get to the root of that problem to ever be considered equal citizens.

If we care about giving our kids a fair shot at life, a good education, and every other piece of success that is argued about on WeChat, we need to support policies like affirmative action that increase tolerance and support for people like us.

We need to band together with other racial minorities against the admissions advantage accorded to white students. We need to understand how much stronger we could be working together.

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Today, my mum is hopeful. She’s excited to know so many Asian-American students and student organisations at Harvard and colleges across the country have stood up for affirmative action.

With a final legal resolution perhaps still distant, I hope our future together is united: may Asian-Americans join up with each other and other people of colour to fight against racism and create a fair future for all.

Daniel Lu is a junior at Harvard University and a student amici that submitted a declaration in support of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions programme