The Asian American community is quietly growing more and more dissatisfied with the convoluted admissions regime at America’s elite colleges, a regime which gives advantages to other minority groups (in the form of affirmative action) and to whites (in the form of legacy and donor influence) but which seems to consistently disadvantage Asian applicants. The latest issue of the Economist has an in-depth look at Asian American organizations’ efforts to challenge the process, which they believe helps create a “bamboo ceiling” on Asian achievement in the professional world. A taste:
Racial prejudice of the sort that Jews faced may or may not be part of the problem, but affirmative action certainly is. Top universities tend to admit blacks and Hispanics with lower scores because of their history of disadvantage; and once the legacies, the sports stars, the politically well-connected and the rich people likely to donate new buildings (few of whom tend to be Asian) have been allotted their places, the number for people who are just high achievers is limited. Since the Ivies will not stop giving places to the privileged, because their finances depend on the generosity of the rich, the argument homes in on affirmative action. […]
College admissions—and the lawsuit against Harvard—may provide a spark to fire Asian-Americans into becoming more assertively political. Many in California were infuriated last year by a bill to rescind the state’s ban on using race in university admissions promoted by a Hispanic state senator. A Change.org petition and 36 organisations, 26 of them Asian-American, opposed the bill, and it was dropped. “There’s a growing community angst,” says Mr Hahn of the belief among Asian-Americans that they are being discriminated against. “What’s next? Law school admissions? Employment?” He organises political fund-raisers, and says that the coffers have opened. “Hedge-fund money, private equity, lawyers. They’re giving huge sums …It took the Jews half a century to get where they are,” he adds. “I hope it doesn’t take us that long.”
If the political conflict over affirmative action escalates, and if Asian American groups continue to mobilize, important Democratic constituencies will be pitted against each other in a way that could have real consequences for the durability of the blue coalition over the long run. Asian voting power is growing relative to other blue constituencies; Pew predicts that Asians will be the largest American immigrant group by the year 2065. Moreover, Asian immigrants are highly educated and upwardly mobile; as they begin to occupy more and more positions in fields like law, medicine, and even politics, their influence over public policy will grow.
Affirmative action alone won’t be enough to split the Democratic coalition. But it is representative of the fact that a party increasingly organized around identity politics will inevitably struggle to give all of its constituents what they want. When the interests of the various identity groups diverge on racial lines, the coalition becomes particularly fragile. Read the whole Economist piece to get a sense of why this is likely to be an increasingly important story in the coming months and years.