Paradoxically, Asian Americans are considered minorities when white activists seek to challenge affirmative action but not considered minorities or contributors to diversity when other activists seek to promote it. We’re objects used to prove a political point about other ethnic groups rather than a group whose successes and failures are judged on our own.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio muses about reforming the city’s technical high schools to include more subjective criteria to balance out the advantages of students with “certain backgrounds,” for example, there doesn’t seem to be much consideration of the effect that might have on the Asian Americans who now dominate the system, particularly the poor ones.
And when advocates bemoan the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, citing white and Asian American dominance, they seem to ignore the problems that Asians face in career advancement there. “Most of their employees are white and Asian men,” wrote The New York Times’ editorial board, as if Asians were not so much a contributor to diversity as a problem to be solved. The presence of Asians as a challenge to diversity obscures the problem we face in Silicon Valley: As The Washington Post’s Brian Fung notes, we’re unable to break past a “bamboo ceiling” to ascend to higher, leadership positions.
Even worse, Asian Americans are overlooked entirely when some advocates or politicians speak about minorities. There’s a deep intellectual laziness afoot when people talk about “minorities” but are referring only to Hispanic or African Americans.