It Ain’t About Asians At Harvard

It’s clear to me that Harvard’s application and selection process is to some degree unfairly skewed against Asians:

“Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected,” according to an analysis of more than 160,000 student records filed Friday by a group representing Asian-American students in a lawsuit against the university.

Asian-Americans scored higher than applicants of any other racial or ethnic group on admissions measures like test scores, grades and extracurricular activities, according to the analysis commissioned by a group that opposes all race-based admissions criteria. But the students’ personal ratings significantly dragged down their chances of being admitted, the analysis found.”

“Harvard Rated Asian-American Applicants Lower On Likability And Personality Traits, Lawsuit Says” | The New York Times | Anemona Hartocollis | 06/15/2018

It’s also clear to me that it’s Harvard’s prerogative to have a “secret sauce”—a proprietary methodology for selecting students who have the best chances of thriving on its campus, as opposed to merely admitting those applicants with the best grades and the best test scores.

“Harvard discriminates against Asians” is the visible tip of an iceberg story. There are deeper levels that aren’t easily seen.

One level is “the preferences of privilege” at elite colleges as explained by journalist Daniel Golden:

“These policies elevate predominantly white, affluent applicants: children of alumni, big non-alumni donors, politicians and celebrities, as well as recruited athletes in upper-crust sports like golf, sailing, horseback riding, crew and even, at some colleges, polo. The number of whites enjoying the preferences of privilege, I concluded, outweighed the number of minorities aided by affirmative action.

By giving more slots to already advantaged students, these preferences displace more deserving candidates from other backgrounds, including Asian-Americans and middle-class whites, without achieving the goals of affirmative action, such as diversity and redressing historical discrimination.”

“Blame Rich Whites for ‘Asian Fail’ at Top Colleges” | Bloomberg | Daniel Golden | 09/07/2017

We hardly talk about the rich, elite whites accepted by schools like Harvard, not because these kids have something special to add to a high-achieving community, but because their parents are connected, alumni, wealthy, famous, or all of the above. The Price of Admission, Golden’s 2006 book, shows that one-percenter admissions policies are more responsible for Asians missing out on top-tier school acceptance letters than affirmative action.

Countering this narrative is a conservative agenda that diverts an honest conversation about class towards a dishonest conversation about race. It mobilizes Asians as proxies for whites and well-funded political groups in a war to kill “affirmative action” in college admissions. Several of these groups, such as  Students for Fair Admissions, are connected to Edward Blum, who brought an affirmative action case against the University of Texas (which he lost after a Supreme Court ruling) and is linked to several anti-civil rights causes.

Despite facts and data, Blum and a political network that Mother Jones calls the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement” (yes, it includes the Koch brothers) push the idea that there are too many brown and black (especially black) people on elite college campuses who are not worthy. Very cleverly, they’ve shifted their focus to Asians and away from whites, as a narrative of aggrieved whites who’s spots at top schools are being “stolen” by people of darker races doesn’t play well. Still, because this “unfairness” is portrayed as “theft” (even by people dark enough to be black, like Mindi Kaling’s weird brother) for them it’s OK to characterize admissions policies at schools like Harvard as “racist.” A Bizarro World definition of “racist” is crucial to this agenda.

At the deepest level of this story is the tragedy of affirmative action. It worked well before it was diluted. Then it didn’t work well at all.  

The Civil Rights Movement won because it was in the right place at the right time. The struggle’s duration, from 1955 to 1968, coincided with the most bountiful part of the most bountiful period in American history. We know that time from the end of World War II to 1975 as The Thirty Glorious Years. It was a time of such tremendous prosperity that whites who felt secure and well-off decided it was right and just to allow African-Americans full rights and posterity.

Post-Civil Rights measures to counteract historical discrimination such as affirmative action created a thriving black middle class in the early 1970s. However, blacks beginning to succeed en masse just when the biggest of boom times was beginning to wind down rubbed a lot of white people the wrong way.

Perhaps the worst example of white resentment was the Boston school busing riots in 1974. The Arab Oil Shock had struck in 1973. The stagflation that followed and persisted through the early 80s (there was another energy crisis in 1979) lowered the life expectations for lots of white people who saw their wages eaten by rising prices until they stagnated. The lives they thought they’d have were evaporating. Many of them started wondering if America had lost its way.

At some point, people who thought like Edward Blum told them that blacks stealing their jobs and moving into their neighborhoods were to blame.  

Despite the fact that the median white household is worth ten times that of the median black household—largely because of housing and home loan discrimination, white resentment towards black advancement has fueled assault after assault on correcting history’s wrongs. We’ve arrived at a perverse moment where “affirmative action” benefits white women more than any racial group. Meanwhile, blacks who’ve improved their lives through education are looked upon with suspicion, as if coding at a keyboard and not selling crack on a corner came down to taking some white person’s spot at a good school.

The tragedy of affirmative action is that when it wasn’t challenged, watered down, or co-opted it worked well. Had it been left alone, there’s a good chance it would’ve been obsolete by now and the best schools in the world wouldn’t be catching Hell for looking like America.


IMAGE SOURCE: harvard-359920_1920.jpg (Creative Commons)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.