Phi Beta Cons

Re: Asians and Affirmative Action

Thanks, Carol, for the invitation and the open mind. Several points.
First, I think we have to decide whether we’re going to be talking normatively or descriptively. I’m going to do the former, except to note that policymakers have not made the kind of compromise that you hypothesize — university presidents (education) don’t meet with city councils (contracts) and corporate CEOs (employment) and cut such deals. The simple fact that Asians often face discrimination in all three areas evidences this: California’s Department of Transportation has proposed taking subcontinent Asians, at least, off the list of those who get contracting preferences (which means they will be discriminated against, along with whites and Latinos); Intel pays employees triple the bonus for successfully referring African American and Latino job applications that it does for white and Asian referrals.
Now, normatively, it would not be right to give Asians preferences in employment and contracting in exchange for discriminating against them in education. If racial discrimination is bad as a matter of public policy (and constitutional law), we as a polity shouldn’t accept such a deal, and such a deal would be near-impossible anyway — no group speaks for all Asians (the prominent leftist groups certainly don’t).
Perhaps more to the immediate point, Robert is quite right that we shouldn’t treat “Asians” as one being. We’re talking about individuals here, and it’s not right to say that discrimination against A is balanced out by discrimination against B just because A and B are the same color. It’s the same point that we opponents of preferences make all the time: Just because one African American has trouble catching a cab doesn’t make it right to give another African American a preference when he applies to medical school; just because someone your color was a slave owned by someone of a different color doesn’t make it right to take from someone else of the different color and give to you now.
The fact that Asians are being admitted at three to four times their proportional numbers is irrelevant for the same reason, as it was when Jews were “overrepresented.” The fact that lots of other people your skin color are getting in is no justification to discriminate against you because of your skin color.
All that said, I agree with you, Carol, that if Asian organizations (and individuals) are unhappy with what’s going on in education, they should make it clear that they don’t want preferences in employment and contracting, either. If the same organization or individual supports one kind of discrimination and opposes the other, it’s self-serving hypocrisy, plain and simple.

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