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Open Your Eyes: Bias is Real

Open Your Eyes: Bias is Real

With affirmative action struck down by the Supreme Court several weeks ago, focus has shifted to the unfairness of legacy admissions; this hyperfocus on college admissions seems unlikely to help the Asian disadvantage in the wider world.

Under the new ruling, race-based admissions, even to redress past wrongs, is deemed unconstitutional. Leading up to the Supreme Court decision, Students for Fair Admissions argued that Harvard University discriminated against Asian Americans, holding them to a higher standard than whites or other races for admission. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of treating all races equally in admissions, college admissions might change, but this will not guarantee Asians taking a bigger role in American life.

While Asian Americans as a group are highly educated, Asian Americans are underrepresented in professional or managerial jobs. Asian Americans are also not monolithic; many ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds include Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and others. Asian Americans are the most economically divided racial group in the U.S. Also, one in every seven Asian immigrants is undocumented.

To push race-blind admissions ignores ethnic and historical racial differences. Race blindness becomes a denial of racism, a lack of acknowledgment that racism has shaped the U.S. The white advantage relates to being able to deny racism, having always been in the majority, with a history of being evaluated by other whites in places of power and authority. 

For college admissions, race-blind admissions assume that some objective, mathematical formula exists; for example, for a GPA above 4.0, one gets 30 points, for excellent SAT scores, another 30 points, for excellence in sports or music or some other talent, another 30 points, and 10 more points for excellent letters of recommendation. This formula can be altered, by adding or subtracting multiple categories and changing how many points are awarded. Given the Supreme Court decision, some suggest adding an adversity category, awarding points to those who have overcome significant challenges, regardless of race. 

But this formula does not truly exist. Admission into an institution or program is granted by a group of individuals that compose an admissions committee. Having participated in such committees, I know that there is an element of luck: if someone reading your application connects with it. There are too many qualified candidates for a limited number of spots at elite colleges; admission is not a guarantee for anyone. Race-conscious admissions are race-based in order to skew decision-makers to prioritize diversity and to be more inclusive to those affected by implicit and structural bias.

Asian Americans often are considered to have an advantage over other minorities, but this is a harmful myth. Asian Americans are not demographically underrepresented in elite colleges or in medicine; yet, this education advantage does not transmit to senior levels in the workplace. Throughout my education, there were often few to no Asian American role models for me among my professors and mentors. Asian Americans also are rare in business leadership and corporate boards. There is a true Asian disadvantage that persists despite decades of race-conscious admissions. 

Affirmative action is believed mostly to have benefited women. Despite this, although women have made strides in the workplace, gender bias and female disadvantage are still real. Gender blindness masks what women have achieved as well as the disparities that remain. Race blindness does the same to Asian Americans. Just as the experience of gender bias is real, the Asian disadvantage is real. Justice Jackson perhaps said it best, “Deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

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