By Avatans Kumar
There are strong indications of a paradigm shift in the troika of decisions the United States Supreme Court recently delivered. The Court’s ruling “on affirmative action, students loan and free speech,” writes Gerard Baker, Editor at Large of The Wall Street Journal, “heralded a counterrevolution against the left’s dominance of American institution.”
Supreme Court ruling
The case of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and the University of North Carolina (UNC) was particularly interesting to Asian Americans, Indians included. In the case against Harvard, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 judgment, found it unconstitutional to consider race in university admissions. Both Harvard and UNC used race to favor some applicants over others, most notably Asian Americans. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice unequivocally declared that: “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”
The Supreme Court judgment restored meritocracy over group membership based on skin color as the critical determinant of access to admissions to America’s educational institutions. The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal declared that the six Supreme Court Justices “took a giant step back from the racial Balkanization that risks becoming set in institutional stone.”
The Justices also rejected Justice Lewis Powell’s “educational diversity” rationale. The rationale, the Justices claimed, has led to an unconstitutional racial discrimination system.
The Affirmative Action program of the 1960s assumed that the disparity between the black and whites in academic achievement would dissipate in about a quarter century. “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preference will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” wrote Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her Grutter opinion.
In the 1978 Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Justice Lewis Powell ruled that the school’s quota system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The University of California at Davis medical school had rejected Bakke’s application based on the school’s racial quota system. In its judgment, however, the Court left the door open for the colleges to use the race of a student to be considered an option, among many, to create a diverse student body.
As time went by, the stated goal of the affirmative action program in US educational institutions got severely diluted. The program’s benefits now extend to Hispanics, Native Americans, and other “minority” groups. As correcting the past took a back seat, diversity, and equity elements crept into it. The program used many criteria to favor some students at the cost of others – most often Asian Americans.
Affirmative Action Penalizes Asian Americans
The Supreme Court decision against Harvard and North Carolina’s race-conscious admissions policies “was the acknowledgment that in granting racial preferences to black and Hispanic students and in penalizing those who are Asian American – which, of course, includes Indian students – these schools relied on abhorrent, anti-Asian stereotypes,” said Renu Mukherjee, a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute.
In an exclusive conversation with this author, Mukherjee said that “Harvard gives Asian students the poorest “personality ratings” out of any racial or ethnic group and suggests that because these students perform so highly on the school’s objective academic and extracurricular ratings, they must lack courage, compassion, and depth. This is the textbook definition of racism.”
Left-Wing Advocacy Groups Fudge Policy Debates
One of the key aspects of the affirmative action program has been the near complete absence of the recognition of the attitudes of Asian Americans – the primary victims of this race-conscious discrimination – in policy debates. This lack of perspective is a byproduct of the profound disconnect between what many Asian and Indian American advocacy groups present and what the Asian American public opinion is on the issue of affirmative action.
The mainstream media narrative suggests that Asian Americans overwhelmingly support Affirmative Action in college admissions. Such a narrative is based on biased AAPI Data that shows over two-thirds of Asian Americans support affirmative action. Mainstream media outlets often cite this survey to bolster their claim. They also claim that those who oppose affirmative action are nothing but “vocal Asian American minority railing against affirmative action.”
One of the major surveys that publish demographic and policy research data on Asian Americans (and Pacific Islanders) is AAPI Data. Its biennial Asian American Voter survey has questions about affirmative action. However, a closer look at the AAPI Data reveals that a biased framing of survey questions about affirmative action is responsible for positive responses from Asian Americans. A detailed study of AAPI Data by Renu Mukherjee finds that survey questions “appear to be designed to elicit a favorable view of affirmative action from respondents.”
Mukherjee explains that surveys that ask questions from the respondents in a more neutral way “elicit, on average, a much less positive view” of affirmative action. Mukherjee cites examples from Pew Research Center, Gallup, and Quinnipiac to back her claim. The Early and Late 2022 Pew Research Center poll of Asian Americans on race-conscious college admissions shows that 63 and 76 percent of respondents oppose affirmative action.
“You’d be forgiven,” said Mukherjee, “however, for believing the opposite to be true, as the mainstream media has relied on a faulty statistic from AAPI Data [70% of Asian Americans support affirmative action].”
Mukharjee blames “left-wing activist organizations, and other liberal Asian American advocacy groups, including those that purport to represent the interests of Indian American students and families,” for this gross misrepresentation. Mukherjee also calls out left-wing researchers for ignoring college admission discrimination against Asian American students for their social alienation.
Loosening Grips of the Cultural Left?
The affirmative action ruling of the Supreme Court indicates a loosening of the grips of the cultural left on American institutions. “But since that hegemony was established in large part through half a century of grotesque judicial overreach,” writes Baker, “it was likely to be truly overturned only by a judiciary that would finally move to substitute restraint for activism.”
America is imperfect, and we are too far from being a genuinely color-blind and discrimination-free society. One of the ways to eliminate educational discrepancies at the college level is to reinforce our K-12 education, which traps too many minority students into “failure factories.” The progress cannot, however, be based on skin color. As Chief Justice Roberts writes: “Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”
This article was first published in India Currents and has been republished here with the kind permission of the editor(s).
Contributing Author: Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. A JNU, New Delhi, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumnus, Avatans holds graduate degrees in Linguistics. Avatans is a recipient of the 2021 San Francisco Press Club’s Bay Area Journalism award.
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