1996 Beyond Self-Interest

Beyond Self Interest


  • reprinted in 4 UCLA ASIAN PAC. AM. L. J. 129-62 (1996)


This document has two target audiences. The first audience consists of APAs, whether activists, political leaders, academics, ethnic media, or interested members of the community. Like all Americans, APAs are trying to understand the frequently frustrating and always pitched debate over affirmative action and civil rights. In this analysis, the authors tackle the genuine complexity confronting APAs and explain why support for affirmative action may mark a defining moment for APA identity.

The second audience consists of the general public. In this regard, the authors want to present APA perspectives on affirmative action. Recently, APAs have become increasingly visible in the political sphere and perhaps nowhere as prominently as in the debate over affirmative action. But this visibility has been passive, with APAs being used to make debating points, especially by opponents of affirmative action. This policy analysis strives to convert that passive visibility into active participation. By adding distinct APA voices to the policy debate, we hope to address better the complexities of race relations and, in turn, strengthen the arguments for affirmative action.

We begin in Part I with a brief introduction to the current affirmative action conflict and the urgent need for APA involvement in the public policy debate.

Part II presents the general arguments for affirmative action. Section A states the case for race-conscious remedies in a society afflicted with racial discrimination. Sections B and C respond to two standard counter-arguments, that affirmative action violates the abstract principles of meritocracy and color-blindness.

Part III focuses specifically on APAs, their history of racial discrimination and their relationship to affirmative action. Section A documents the history of explicit institutional racism against APAs that, until recently, remained both law and practice. Section B examines the model minority myth of APAs and exposes its inaccuracies and dangers. Section C details the current discrimination against APAs, which persists despite perceptions of utter assimilation and success. Finally, Section D addresses college admissions, an area of special concern for APA communities. In particular, it refutes the claim that affirmative action for African Americans, Latina/os, and Native Americans means that APAs must be capped by admission ceilings.

Part IV provides concluding thoughts and explains how APAs have a unique opportunity to defend affirmative action in a way that challenges both conservative cries of the APA “victim” and liberal neglect of APA communities. How APAs react to the onslaught against affirmative action presents a defining moment for APA history and identity. By standing up for affirmative action—regardless of whether APAs are always included—we can show loyalty to principles, not self-interest, and a genuine commitment to a community of justice.