Are our boys and girls wrong
In expecting you who make your living
Exclusively off the white race
To stop patronizing Jap laundries.
And thereby assist your fellow men and women
In maintaining the white man’s standard in a white man’s country?
— Placards belonging to the Anti-Jap Laundry League, Calif., 1908
California has a long and ugly history of discriminating against Asian Americans. From the Anti-Jap Laundry League, the Anti-Chinese League, the Asiatic Exclusion League, the alien land laws, the Anti-Coolie Act . . . the list is long. Much of that discrimination had its origins on the left, with the Ant-Jap Laundry Act, the Asiatic Exclusion Act, and the Anti-Coolie Law being in the main projects of organized labor, which did not like the idea of being made to compete against Asians for work.
And now another group of left-leaning Californians is chafing at the idea of being made to compete with Asian Americans.
The California state legislature was on the verge of approving a referendum to restore the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions to state universities. The referendum originally had the support of three state senators who have since had a change of heart: Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ted Lieu of Torrance, and Carol Liu of La Cañada, Democrats all. They changed their minds when they were overwhelmed with telephone calls and e-mails — thousands of them — from angry constituents who know exactly what such affirmative-action programs mean in the context of elite universities: Asian quotas. A petition to cancel the referendum has already been endorsed by 100,000 signatories. Subsequently, the senators sent a letter to the speaker, John Pérez (do I need to note that he’s a Democrat?) seeking to have the measure tabled. The letter reads in part: “As lifelong advocates for the Asian American and other communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children.”
If they mean that, all three of them belong to the wrong political party.
Asian immigration into the United States is a complex social phenomenon; in fact, the phrase “Asian immigration” hardly means anything, implying as it does a unitary phenomenon involving the radically different cultures of China, India, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc. But one thing that is true of Asian immigrant groups as different as the Chinese and the Indians is that they tend to be “bimodal,” meaning that the immigrants come from two distinct socio-economic groups. We get the Asian elites — doctors, scientists, academics, business executives — and we also get less educated, less skilled, less well-off Asian immigrants. As one observer of South Asian stereotypes notes, the impression is that Indian immigrants come in two varieties and two varieties only: doctors and clerks at 7-Eleven. Nothing in the middle. That isn’t true, but there is a wide disparity, just as there is between the Chinese Americans in Stanford, Calif., and the Chinese Americans in Sunnyside, Queens, who tend to be relatively downscale.
What both sides of the bimodal Asian immigration population have in common is that their children do uncommonly well in school. They are represented in California’s much-admired universities in far larger numbers than their share of the population would suggest: Asians compose 14 percent of California’s population but 37 percent of the undergraduates at its state universities. They make up about 40 percent of the students at UCLA, 43 percent of the students at Berkeley, half the students at UC San Diego, and more than half of the students at UC Irvine. A relatively small minority, they compose the largest single ethnic group on California university campuses (at least as California defines “ethnic group”).
Asians have the grades and the test scores — but, at 14 percent of the population, they don’t have the votes. Who has the votes? In California, it’s an almost even split between Latinos and non-Hispanic whites, representing 38.2 and 39.4 percent of the population, respectively. But as the woeful careers of Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi should have made obvious by now, who really has the votes in California is liberals. Less than 30 percent of Californians identify as Republicans, while 44 percent are Democrats and 21 percent are formally unaffiliated, which in California is shorthand for “too liberal for Diane Feinstein’s party” as often as not.
Liberals talk a great deal of mindless rot about what they like to call “privilege,” the supposedly omnipresent advantages that accrue to the white, the male, the heterosexual, those whose sense of self is more or less congruent with their biological genitals, etc. But it is worth keeping in mind that progressive social-engineering programs such as the use of racial criteria in university admissions do not hurt only hurt well-off white people sporting penises. (Not that we should shortchange the interests of well-off white penis-sporters.) They also hurt poor people and immigrants, in this case a group of immigrants that we as a country should count ourselves lucky to have. It is important to remember why race-based admissions are such an important issue for progressives: The Left lives in the public schools, which do a terrible job of teaching black, Hispanic, and poor students, who consequently show up in embarrassingly small proportions at elite institutions. Asian students, on the other hand, do a tremendous amount of work outside of school, spending ten times as much time as non-Asian students do on organized non-school activities ranging from music lessons to tutoring to test-preparation courses. That is true across the economic spectrum: Working-class Asian immigrant families in Queens send their children to tutoring sessions and piano lessons at a much higher rate than does the non-Asian population, even though the relative financial sacrifices necessary for them to do so are heavy.
For that, California’s professional race hustlers, and their allies across the country, would see them punished.
In an earlier day, California’s union-goon-powered politics meant using the law to “maintain the white man’s standard in a white man’s country,” today the same apparatus is used to maintain the Democrats’ standard in the Democrats’ country — or at least what the Democrats’ country would look like if they had one. In either case, it’s still at the expense of Asian immigrants. New rhetoric, same old bigotry.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent and the author of The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.