Confusion over Anti-Asian Discrimination

At the request of the unidentified Asian-American student who filed discrimination complaints against Harvard and Princeton, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has ended its investigation.

The civil rights office had folded the complaint against Princeton … into a compliance review begun in 2008 of whether that university discriminates against Asian-Americans.

The allegations in the 2011 complaint “will no longer be considered as part of OCR’s existing compliance review involving Princeton,” said an Education Department spokesman, who declined to be identified, citing department policy.

“The complaints,” wrote Daniel Golden, who broke the story about the recent investigation, “fed the longstanding debate about whether elite universities hold Asian-Americans to a higher standard in college admissions.”

Actually I don’t think there is any reasonable debate about whether Asians are held to a higher admissions standard at elite universities. Even liberals acknowledge that the Ivies and other selective institutions discriminate, although they are loathe to admit that it is, you know, discrimination. Take SLATE’s Matthew Yglesias (Please!), who writes: “it’s worth noting that we know perfectly well that this discrimination happens. The only real issue is whether or not they’re breaking the law.”

Leave aside the point that “whether or not they’re breaking the law” is not, of course, “the only real issue.” Some, perhaps many, reasonable people believe that racial discrimination should be illegal even if it is not, and that it’s both wrong and bad policy even if courts or legislatures in their wisdom never agree.

What interests me here, however, is the way Yglesias (and many, perhaps most, other liberals) fundamentally misunderstand what discrimination is. “For starters,” he writes,

Harvard recruits athletes who are disproportionately white (it’s not just football and basketball–there are fencing and golf teams). Harvard also gives a bonus to the children of alumni, another disproportionately non-Asian group. But then on top of that Harvard seeks to ensure the presence of a diverse class by giving bonuses to members of underrepresented racial minorities and underrepresented geographical areas. The much-discussed racial diversity criteria hurt Asian applicants and benefit black and Latino applicants, while the never-discussed geographical diversity criteria hurt Asian applicants and benefit whites. Conservatives have entrenched into law the idea that policies with a “disproportionate impact” on racial minorities don’t constitute an illegal form of discrimination, which may be the wise approach, in which case it may be that Ivy League schools aren’t doing anything illegal to Asian applicants.

This analysis, if that’s what it is, is hopelessly confused. Harvard doesn’t recruit golfers or fencers or legacies because they are white but because they are good (and presumably smart) golfers and fencers and legacies. For that policy to be illegal even under disparate impact analysis (aside from whether it’s wise or not), there would have to be no good reason for Harvard to want good fencers and golfers and legacies–and if preferences to them are illegal, then presumably so would be requiring high SAT scores and grades.

“Business necessity” is a defense against charges that an employment policy has an impermissibly discriminatory disparate impact, and defenders of racial preference in college admissions argue that racial “diversity” is an educational necessity. According to current law, however (42 U.S. Code Section 2000e(k)K2)), demonstrating “that an employment practice is required by business necessity may not be used as a defense against a claim of intentional discrimination.”

Clearly, distributing admission “bonuses” and burdens based on race is intentional discrimination. Selective institutions recruit blacks and Hispanics because they are black and Hispanic. They set higher admissions hurdles for Asians because they are Asian. Race-balancing discrimination is thus not the unintended effect of what “diversity” admissions does; it is the core of what it is.

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John S. Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

2 thoughts on “Confusion over Anti-Asian Discrimination

  1. Ben,I’m sure you’ll give this post very little thought because most with your mindset don’t give much thought to anything other than the overly-simplistic idea of basic injustice and view it like religion, in that it is nearly impossible to disprove the effects (or lack thereof). It is not “The” man who leaves nearly 80% of black children fatherless, it’s “that” man (and, of course, the idiotic women who allow this practice to continue). The point of that example is that we have a far greater cultural class problem than that of race – and continue to excuse it for fear of the racist label.When one sees the reasons given, and adjustments made, for the ‘cultural bias’ of standardized tests, it becomes very clear…Example: Tests aren’t fair because fewer black kids know the definition of words like “mauve”. Who’s fault is that? The government? Racists? I knew my colors by reading my crayons before kindergarten. Probably because, between their jobs, one of my parents was usually home with me….and, if not, a neighbor or sister.I came from a small, ‘white-trash’ town in Missouri and went to a nearly all-black college. I’ve seen bias and discrimination from all sides, however most meaningful problems come from the devil within… the best example I can give is one of a brilliant black man I know who was ostracized from his community because of his desire to be an Uncle Tom….fortunately for him, he has a wonderful family and has gone on to be an amazing meteorologist and a world class percussionist. I’m sure you can dream up a Mr. Burns-type character to blame for the fact that many minority children would rather beat up a peer who chooses to read than hang on the corner, and you may be right in some strange ways, but I’d ask you to exercise some caution when accusing us of being racist because some of us feel it necessary to address ALL of the problems in minority communities.

  2. The anti-Asian discrimination is exactly the same as anti-Jewish discrimination in the early 20th century. Then, colleges were open about their quotas. They admitted lots of Jews, and admitted they were academically excellent, but also said that they had to preserve balance in the college body. It wasn’t a ridiculous argument— but it was no different than the arguments used against Asians.

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