Affirmative action is a divisive issue and I admit to being on all sides at one time or another. But try to imagine you are an alien or an unborn soul and read this blog. You can question my motives and my bias but follow the logic and consider the meta significance of what dividing humans into future-altering categories means. Read like you have no skin (whatever its appearance) in the game.
Once upon a time and even still, America was a racist country. That is because it is made up of people and all people are racist insofar as they look, they judge, and then they act based on conscious and unconscious biases. Truthfully, we all judge each other constantly using a myriad of traits from speech, attire, behavior, sex, age, body, and attractiveness. It follows that being racist is not, contrary to many would have you believe, is not the absolute worst thing you can be. I have heard some pretty bigoted things said by good people of all backgrounds; being intentionally unkind and disingenuous is worse in my opinion.
When we look at a graduating class photo, we all scan to see “how many”? As if we can really know anything useful about those humans’ stories by our crude visual judgements. This point was driven home to me at my 30th reunion. I was sharing dinner between two apparently “black” people who were also accomplished physicians As we discussed our lives and backgrounds, it came out that one was born to a Korean mother and the other had a Chinese great-grandparent.
Now consider the idea of racial gerrymandering for a moment. If there is a 10% benefit/penalty in admissions respectively for being Black/Asian then the half-Korean doctor would be mathematically White (or average) by this insane metric.
But what if the racist blade cuts both ways? In the past, the “one drop” rule meant if you had any ancestor that was black then you were black. So if we apply this standard to the other doctor, then his Chinese great-grandparent would make him all the way Asian and he should suffer the penalty.
But of course, we have a current system where we check one box and no person in their right mind would check Asian knowing it will harm their chances.
As I was flying back, I saw many ads for the 23 and Me test of ancestry for Fathers’ Day. The “science” of haplotyping is to look at gene variations and then try to generalize about ancestry based on a genetic snapshot. It is dubious science based on dubious assumptions; people always have interbred and migrated and there is no way to make this science more than just a fun thing to talk about, like a horoscope.
Elizabeth Warren, the beneficiary of diversity outreach throughout her career, claims that she was told that she was Native American and she is the victim of believing her parents. Despite her halplotyping test showing no evidence of her claim, she is somehow the victim here? Would it be implausible for parents and a daughter to just make up a semi-myth and run with it?
The day is coming when a student checks the “wrong box” and submits a supporting 23 and me report declaring she had 8% Native American haplotyping (which is 8% more than Elizabeth Warren can claim). What could they say? Before you accuse me of hyperbolizing, I can tell you I went to school with a dude who said he was 1/16th Cherokee from Arkansas. He seemed “white” to me and he never lived on a reservation or had any affinity for that culture other than a penchant for the “peace pipe.” Yet somehow, he was there improving the “optics” of Harvard’s diversity stats.
So you’re a yet-to-be incarnated soul and you’re thinking, “what the hell?” Assuming that getting into Harvard is my goal, my optimal strategy for incarnation is to look like a light-skinned African-American, have Native American ancestry, and be born to a single parent who will put me through a very disadvantaged schooling so that I can get an SAT bump that they instituted a few weeks back that you can read about here.
This week, I am visiting my son who is at an academically challenging boarding school in Hawaii. The majority of the students are of mixed East Asian decent. Over casual conversation, much of their discussions were about getting into college and getting good grades. If I had to sum up their beliefs in one sentence it would be “we all know that being Asian will hurt us in college admissions so if I have any other mixed heritage and can check any other box, I should do it.” They were wishing for a distant relative of any other ethnicity to improve their chances.
Consider LA Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts. His father was African-American, his mother was Japanese, and his wife is “White”. Are his children going to check the derogatory “Asian” box or the helpful “Black” box (even though they are only 25%)? Should they be White because the patrilineal blackness and asianness cancel each other out?
God bless Dave’s kids and let them check whatever box they like even though they are 50% “white” by most people’s judgement. The problem doesn’t lie in the them but rather in well-meaning social engineering project known as affirmative action.
I recall the LPGA trying to institute and English proficiency standard to exclude Korean athletes. If you want to understand how we got here, I believe that the large representation of students of so-called Asian descent in the race-blinded University of California system represents a cautionary tale for academic administrators at the most competitive schools. Increasing the available denominator of non-Asians may have contributed to the adoption of “needs blind” admissions in the most coveted colleges and certainly underpins the coalition of those (including Asians) who support the “holistic” racial quota regime. In contradistinction, the overrepresentation of athletes of African-American descent in lucrative professional sports raises no concerns whatsoever and as an unborn soul I might thing, “why not?”
The truth is that there is a complex an absurd narrative to explain “why not?” To an unborn soul, alien, or artificial intelligence, it wouldn’t make sense. But since we live in a quantum simulation as I blogged about here, no explanation is needed. I was listening to the kids talk about a teacher who was fired for posting a bikini picture of herself on Instagram. I immediately knew the story as do you. You know she was not an normal 45yo woman with a healthy BMI of 28. So don’t pretend you don’t understand why there isn’t affirmative action for Asians in professional football. I wrote a screenplay about black jockeys in the 1800s who dominated the sport of horse racing. To the owners, promoting white jockeys represented diversity and inclusion to favor underrepresented whites; but the black jockeys were just better.
Last week, the most academically supercharged nation in the world, Singapore, has taken the lead and is dismantling the high stakes standardized testing regime. Why is Singapore always at the top of international standardized rankings? Confucianism with blinded high stakes national testing, Capitalism, limited social mobility in a scarce socio-economic ecology, and the shared belief that educational attainment correlates with positive outcomes.
At the Harvard reunion, a classmate stood up and challenged the current dean of students to take a leadership role in deescalating the admissions arms race because students were literally dying and the families were suffering needlessly. The entire system is robbing people of joy for diminishing returns. I can’t even interview anymore because I feel guilty and complicit whenever a visibly asian person comes in. One year, I made sure to describe a candidate was blonde and blue-eyed because here Basque surname sounded very Indian…and she did gain admission. The next year our admissions committee ranked a young woman top of 100 applicants from our competitive region and she was rejected, possibly for unforgiveable asianness. Her entire life she had aspired to this goal and through no fault of her own, she failed. Thankfully, what she learned along the way will serve her well so there is justice in the end.
Unfortunately, because so many feel that competitive admissions and brand recognition in their 4-yr college is important, this “Hunger Games” game theory simulation continues and now with affirmative action and adversity scoring, it becomes even more cynical in the ways it is played out and the boxes that go checked and unchecked.
What is my suggestion? Teach civics, home economics, and stop math at algebra. Teach reading, writing, arts, and group learning. Encourage students to develop their own passions and seek new ones. Improve opportunity for everyone by investing in schools and teachers and stop viewing schools as day care inculcation centers for group think.
Having said all that, I want to end on a conversation with a another ’89 classmate with two children. One is severely autistic and the other is highly gifted. He told me three things that really stuck with me.
Firstly, he said that he had interviewed hundreds of Asian women with amazing resumes and that not one of them in decades was admitted to Harvard. Secondly, in his professional life as a lawyer and professor, Asians from “mid-tier” schools were tacitly viewed more favorably because they realized the existence of systemic discrimination and that the competence was perhaps quite high relative to the “name brand” applicants of whatever race. Finally, as a Jewish emigrant from the former Soviet Union, he told me that the Jews were utilized to construct Lenin and Stalin’s dystopia because they were skilled and not aligned with the previous aristocratic power structure in the wake of the pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II in 1881 . Decades later, they were again marginalized and persecuted while ethnicities with mere hundreds of members were celebrated.
Isn’t that the game? Divide and conquer. Prop up what Lenin called the “useful idiots” until they get too strong. Rinse and repeat. Now that the powers that be are besmirching MLK Jr.’s character, I am reminded of some things I heard at a conference by well meaning “black people”, one of whom was a current leader in King’s church. They all agreed that King’s evolution of beliefs suggesting that poverty was the more pressing and root cause was a sort of madness that threatened to taint the man’s legacy. In other words, they wanted their Bob Dylan to play the folk songs and not go electric.
Go to countries that are racially homogenous and you will still find cronyism, prejudice, and privilege. It follows that “the struggle” appears to be not one of race but rather power that indeed manifests as institutionalized racism. The difference is that whereas once the disadvantaged were disadvantaged, now institutionalized racism seeks to advantage them and whites as well. “How are whites the beneficiaries of affirmative action”, you may ask? Well, if affirmative action were solely to help underrepresented and disadvantaged minorities then whiteness wouldn’t actually be an eligible consideration because they are neither underrepresented or disadvantaged. I submit the real purpose of racial gerrymandering is the latent fear of the interchangable asian and the UC-ification of top schools when only merit is considered for non-diversity spots. Not only do my kids not have the immigrant moxy and fear of failure that drove us, they can’t even order food in a Korean restaurant. So why should they be penalized for unforgivable yellowness? If we’re being honest, Harvard doesn’t want a class of 10% self-identified Latinos, 15% self-identified blacks, and 60% self-identified Asians so the system actually is a fig leaf of sorts to benefit whiteness over blind merit assessment for those students ineligible for the morally-based racial preferences.
The solution to unequal distribution of power in any society, diverse or not, is always education, empowerment, and transparency. I suggest that the current college admissions regime encourages regurgitation not being critically thinking. I suggest it disempowers certain groups who do well academically based on their degree of Asianness. And I suggest it is opaque in the extreme because to actually examine the hidden figures and assumptions underlying the system would make us all of us uneasy. If you are a “full Cherokee” and someone is 1/16th but admitted over you under the same quota, how does that serve the goals of diversity and inclusion?
Good intentions and good results? Yes. But are we also paving the road to hell by encouraging people play the “one box” game? By my reckoning, the two multiracial physicians I met were smarter and more accomplished than I so it must be a bummer to have anyone wonder if diversity preferences played any role in their success. Along with the one box game, this is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the system set up with the best of intentions…
So you are are an unborn soul in heaven and you are thinking, “what the hell is wrong with these people?” They are all one human family and yet they are dividing themselves by race and ethnicity and national origin and religion and gender and sex and and sexual orientation and appearance and a million other things. And you politely ask, “isn’t there another planet that I could go to?” And the answer comes, “No. Since you are afraid, this is the precisely the pool you must learn to swim in. Go and make it a better place!”
Most people are fine with Elizabeth Warren yet repulsed by actor Mindy Kaling’s brother, who claimed to be African-American as a dark-skinned Indian-American med school applicant with a 3.1GPA and a 31 on the MCAT. The former claimed ignorance and reaped rewards while the latter “leaned in” to his disdain for the system and even wrote a book about it. According to what I was taught in biological anthropology, we are all Homo sapiens sapiens from Africa, so technically, I suppose he could claim this. And he is dark, so some might discriminate against him thinking he was black. Warren claims her intentions were pure whereas Chokalingam claims he was exposing hypocrisy. Both took advantage of a positively racist system yet only the one with the admitted dishonest intentions is demonized.
You may not like this Chokal-lingam character, but he does raise some valid points about people using great-great grandparents to check a box. If you think you understand the scientific basis of race and why it is a valid consideration for college admissions, I would love to understand your viewpoint. But keep in mind that one drop and one box are inexorably in conflict so you probably won’t believe it’s fair for the 7/8ths visibly Asian “octaroon” next to you to get the same bump for her blackness as the 7/8ths visibly Black with the one Asian great-grandparent.
Seriously, please someone explain this to me because I feel like I just incarnated and am having trouble keeping the “everyone knows” narrative together. If I self identify as black and both my parents are multi-racial with Ivy League backgrounds, affluence, and tiger parenting skills, am I still entitled to be black? Apparently blackness is only something that can only help whereas visual asianness is only something that can hurt. Have I got it right, now? But did you know that some of the darkest people in the world (so black they are blue) are from India and yet they are both Asian and very black. Now I am confused again.
I just rechecked my 23 and Me ancestry and whereas three years ago I as 29% Japanese an 0.5% Ashkenazi Jewish now I am only 7.7% Japanese and now there is 0.7% Broadly East Asian and Native American. Obviously they are periodically changing their data and thankfully my kids can now claim an admissions bump! I’m kidding, of course; that just doesn’t seem legit, does it?
I understand there is a greater good to be served for the causes of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I just wish there was diversity of thought, equity of opportunity versus outcome, and inclusion of people despite their visually identifiable race, not only because of it.
ADDENDUM (updated 6/10/2019):
Several days after writing this blog, I actually searched the internet to find DNA testing for admissions is already a thing. In this case, a medical school admissions officer allegedly asked a “Caucasian” student to do a test to find any trace of a preferred minority in her haplotyping. https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/02/dna-testing-and-college-admission.php
This article from an “Ivy Coach” also promulgates doing DNA testing for admissions advantage: https://www.ivycoach.com/the-ivy-coach-blog/college-admissions/dna-testing-college-admissions/
The truth of the matter is that we all have mixed heritage and that when you incentivize people to check just one box, the affirmative action system, under scientific and common sense scrutiny, will fall apart. If you think using a DNA test to check a desirable box is gaming the system, I invite you to please explain why. I am not engaging in sophistry here; I honestly don’t understand how you can stop people from matching the cynicism of the process with their own cynicism. If Tiger Woods was subject to losing strokes for being 50% Asian, then he would check a different ethnic box before teeing off.