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Asians must be part of discussions about racism

Dana Kim and Norah Springborn/YJI

Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. – I remember a conversation my dad and I had once regarding college applications. As we discussed my grades, hobbies, and extracurriculars, another piece of my identity became a factor: the fact I was Asian.

My Asian-ness could harm my application due to the model minority myth. And yet, we didn’t consider the possible benefits of affirmative action on my application. 

The Supreme Court ended affirmative action on June 29th. In the case brought to the court, Asian American plaintiffs (led by Edward Blum, a conservative lawyer who is white) argued that the University of North Carolina and Harvard University discriminated against Asians through affirmative action.

The case suggested that Asians, despite performing better academically than Black or Latino students, were being denied due to affirmative action policies present within the school. 

After the Court’s decision, it caused debates outside the Asian about their role in the decision. While opponents of the decision felt that the Asian plaintiffs had been used as pawns in the decision, supporters felt that the Supreme Court ruling was a momentous moment in history. 

The debate surrounding affirmative action emphasizes how Asians are erased from discussions around race and discrimination. 

In 2021, NBC News reported that Asian students were erased entirely by the University of Maryland in an administrative graphic that explicitly separated Asian students from students of color — and grouping them with white students instead.  Although the school clarified that the graphic would represent students that make up less than 13% of the school population, opponents argued that this graphic helped support the model minority myth.

The model minority myth stereotypes Asians as hard-working, quiet, meek, intelligent and wealthy, but not politically active or creative. 

While this myth does create positive bias, it severely undermines the struggles and discrimination that Asians face. 

One term that has been coined to describe the discrimination Asians face in the workforce is the “bamboo ceiling.” Much like the “glass ceiling,” the “bamboo ceiling” is a systemic injustice that Asians face in the workforce, leading them to gain fewer promotions than their white peers despite outperforming them in the workforce. 

In 2017, a study published by Yale Law School reported that Asian American lawyers were severely underrepresented in legal leadership. In addition, many attorneys described implicit bias and stereotyping in the workforce. 

And yet this discrimination is never part of American conversations around race and racism.

Even as the affirmative action case reached its end, the voices of Asian students and teachers were only used as tokens within articles that described affirmative action.

Never mentioning the history of anti-Asian racism, the articles only took sides in a contentious debate that failed to acknowledge the implicit bias against Asian-Americans in society. During the case, the plaintiffs pointed out how Harvard’s point-rating system discriminated against Asians by rating them much lower on personality compared to other races. After the anti-Asian attacks in 2020, shouldn’t we have a societal reckoning on the clear presence of racism against Asians? 

Discrimination against Asians must be part of a societal reckoning on racism.

Affirmative action still has consequences for those who are not Asian, and they still should be acknowledged in all conversations regarding affirmative action. 

But Asian struggles should be better heard. 

Dana Kim is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this commentary and created the photo illustration.

Norah Springborn is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International. She took the photos that Dana Kim used in the illustration.

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