Asian vs. Asian: Why are some Asian Americans carrying Abby Fisher's water in the affirmative action debate?

August 15, 2012 12:35 PM

Abigail Fisher seems to have done remarkably well for someone who claims to be so victimized.
From a receptionist, she's risen to a financial analyst position at Xerox.
Far from destitute, she's a young person with a decent job. A success.
And if you link to her, maybe she'll show she actually believes in diversity in the workforce by linking back.
Not bad for a good, but not great, student, who failed to qualify for admission to the University of Texas in 2008 under that school's Top Ten percent plan. That's where the top 10 percent of all students, regardless of race, are automatically admitted. After that, the school then fills out its admitting class by considering remaining students on a number of different factors, race being just one. The policy was designed to be in keeping with current law, which allows for affirmative action.
Fisher, who was in the top 12 percent, didn't make the cut. She went to her backup school, Louisiana State University, where she had to learn her tough lesson that being white doesn't mean as much as it used to. In a competitive and diverse world, you don't automatically get a leg up. Fisher had to work a little harder.
Of course, when that doesn't suit your fancy, or sense of entitlement, you can always sue.
Fisher is now the new face of anti-affirmative action forces throughout the land. Her case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, goes before the Supreme Court on Oct. 10 and could imperil not just Texas's exemplary program, but affirmative action at all public schools and universities.
The threat comes mostly because Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the key conservative who upheld educational diversity as a "compelling interest," is no longer on the court. In her place is Justice Samuel Alito, no friend of race-conscious solutions to anything.
Yet, it would be a supreme tragedy if affirmative action were overturned based on a case as weak as Fisher's.
Clearly, Fisher's relative success belies her sense of victimhood. Where's the harm? She had to go to LSU? To make her case even seem plausible, she's enlisted the aid of Asian Americans.
I guess that's Fisher's idea of affirmative action.
In Fisher's main brief, Asian Americans are mentioned 22 times, and are the crux of Fisher's argument that the Texas system is race-based and favors blacks and Hispanics over whites and Asians. One key standard of legality is whether there's a quota. Texas does not use one, but Fisher claims there's a de facto quota since Texas's admissions attempt to mirror the state's population.
Surprisingly, a  handful of Asian American groups, most notably the group 80-20, dutifully filed briefs in support of Fisher last month.

This week, the vast majority of Asian American legal and community groups chimed in with vigorous opposition to Fisher and in support of affirmative action, filing their own briefs demolishing Fisher's rice paper arguments against UT's policy.
Are Asian Americans harmed by the policy? Well, no. In fact, UT's individualized admissions process is ideally suited to recognize the unique experiences of Southeast Asians and combats the idea that Asian Americans are some monolithic "model minority."
Are Asian Americans subjected to a quota? Once again, no. The Asian American population at UT exceeds the percentage of Asian Americans in the state by more than 500 percent. Doesn't sound like a quota to me.
Are Asian Americans really, as 80-20 asserts, the New Jews? While Jews were targeted by quotas in the past by some schools, there is no evidence that a similar policy on a formal or informal basis targeting Asian Americans exists at UT.
Do non-admitted Asian Americans' higher SAT test scores prove they were discriminated by UT? No. If they are in the Top Ten percent of the class based on grades, they got in. Race is not a factor, nor are SAT scores. After that, race and test scores, among other factors, can be taken into account, but the admissions stats show no shortfall of Asian Americans admitted.
Indeed, Asian Americans have been helped by the UT plan and would be harmed greatly if it were ended.
The AALDEF brief was more tightly focused on UT's policy and the absence of "negative action," while the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice's brief took a broader view of affirmative action and diversity and their respective benefits to society. It also most clearly recognized the blatant attempt of Fisher to pit Asians versus blacks and Latinos: "[We] reject any attempt to use Asian Americans as a wedge group to curtail opportunities of racial minorities, given that all such groups share a history of discrimination and a legacy of working together to overcome those barriers to equality."
Pitting Asians vs. blacks and Latinos, and Asians vs. Asians is really the most insidious aspect of Fisher's legal strategy, one that has been employed in the past, but seldom at the Supreme Court level.
That Asian American organizations like 80-20 have wholeheartedly backed Fisher is a disgrace. Indeed, while 80-20's strong anti-affirmative action stance is remarkably uninformed, its most offensive tack has been to use its stance to badger and divide the community. 80-20's alliance with Fisher has undercut a sense of unity on what remains a cornerstone issue in Asian American empowerment.
80-20 would rather back Fisher than the Asian American communities in Texas whose low educational attainment has been lifted by UT's plan?
That doesn't make sense. 
Based on merit, Fisher didn't make the cut in 2008 at UT. Four years later before SCOTUS, she still doesn't.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. "Are Asian Americans subjected to a quota? Once again, no. The Asian American population at UT exceeds the percentage of Asian Americans in the state by more than 500 percent. Doesn't sound like a quota to me." I'd rethink the logic behind this...UT accepts students nationwide, not just within Texas so the comparison is faulty. Plus, I believe UT is one of the more popular schools for AAs across the nation.
Posted by: David | Aug 20, 201212:06 AM

2. I was nodding with everything until I got to the phrase "rice paper" and then rolled my eyes. Like, really? There's no other term to describe the APA experience than resort to some exotic chop-socky orientalism? And Affirmative Action is need in the work place more than academia; but where are the Asian legal organizations there? Are they just glossing it over and deferring to the special interest groups who are paying their bills to keep quiet against anti-Asian discrimination in the work force? The AADELF and other legal groups don't represent the APA perspective, just as Fisher's cronies don't represent the APA perspective. Ultimately "Asians" are a nebulous and diverse group with vast divergent opinions and beliefs - just like any other group of people. It's time to lay down plans for how "Asians" can be judged as individuals and fulfill the US' social contract promise of a true meritocracy.
Posted by: crazy MMer | Aug 20, 2012 1:48 AM

3. Alright, enough dancing around the issue, let's get to the heart of the matter here. There 2 main groups that are relevant to this debate: Southeast Asians and East Asians. Southeast Asians are, on average, poorer, less educated, and stand to benefit from AA. East Asians are, on average, wealthier, more educated, and stand to to be royally screwed by AA. Hence the support of the former for AA and the rebellion of the latter. That's it. Folks are just out to protect their own interests.
Posted by: Max | Aug 21, 2012 2:28 PM

4. "This week, the vast majority of Asian American legal and community groups chimed in with vigorous opposition to Fisher and in support of affirmative action" Really ? Maybe in your imagination. AA is discrimination. "Race is only one of the factors ......" Really ? Unlike your math skill, community service records etc. Race is something you born with and could not change through your own effects. Any admission criteria based on race is inherently discriminative. This is no difference than saying you are not qualified for this because you are a woman. With more and more Asian Americans are well educated and willing to voice their rights. AA will be history.
Posted by: Key | Oct 25, 2012 4:45 PM

5. I think the title of this article is specious. Rather than carrying the water for Fisher, support for the challenge is a real recognition of the fact that current AA policies hurt Asian students. There is a recent study which shows over the past decade despite a near doubling in the the number of Asian enrollment in college, the number enrolled at elite universities has declined. This is in concordance with the data from Bollinger briefs which showed that the relative scores and grades of Asians needed to be admitted ( based on the median scores of those admitted and rejected) averaged over 300 points higher than Backs and a hundred points over those of Whites. Asians are being judged by different and higher standards in order to keep Asian enrollment artifically low. To deny this is to beggers reason and evidence. Perhaps, AALDEF considers this acceptable-though given the clear evidence of disparate treatment it makes one question their real mission- but many Asians and others do not. Asians and others benefit from being considered as individuals and not being held to a higher standard based on their ethnic background.
Posted by: mike green | Dec 13, 2012 5:42 PM

6. P.S. Try not to rely on the red herring of diversity. One can be in favor of diversity and not preferential treatment. It is the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi to claim as the article and others do that affirmative action and diversity are mutually dependent and thus to oppose different standards based on race is tantamount to hostility toward diversity. And of course, the term itself is vague and loaded. Should diversity include pro-life views, or any other of a myriad of views, or does it only apply to race? If Asians , say, constitute 40 percent of the top applicants to a school and are admitted without racial consideration at roughly that percent, it may offend this narrow notion of diversity, but is it unfair? If true diversity is to be achieved let us find ways to allow all groups to achieve and not judge individual asians as some monolithic group deserving a harsher standard of evaluation in the pursuit of a vague standard of diversity. Fairness should not be sacrificed to serve a Moloch of abstraction.
Posted by: mike green | Dec 13, 2012 5:58 PM

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