Dear Jeff Sessions, I Am #NotYourModelMinority
Using their bully pulpit, the Trump Administration once again is allocating resources to bolster their own racist political agenda while attempting to divide underserved communities against each other using debunked myths. This time, by investigating university affirmative action policies that supposedly discriminate against white applicants. If this seems like déjà vu, it’s because the Supreme Court ruled just last year that race-conscious admissions policies are constitutional. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a “new” twist—using Asian students to promote his anti-affirmative action propaganda. As a first generation, Asian college student benefiting from affirmative action programs, Jeff Sessions, I am #NotYourModelMinority.
Using Asian students as a cover, Sessions attempts to mask the goals of his investigation—to dismantle established affirmative action policies proven to bridge disparities in education and employment for underserved communities while advancing the myth of reverse racism against white Americans. And by shifting the responsibilities of this investigation to political staff appointed by Trump rather than to nonpartisan career civil servants who have enforced anti-discrimination laws through Republican and Democrat administrations, it’s clear that Sessions is using the Department of Justice to advance his problematic political agenda.
Through the false promises of meritocracy (the debunked idea that pursuing race and gender neutral policies yields fair results) and the model minority myth (the false idea that Asian Americans are prosperous without public assistance), the Trump administration furthers a narrative that dismantling public assistance policies is beneficial to our communities. That specifically Black and Latinx people are lazy, and public assistance unfairly takes away resources meant for hard-working populations, i.e., namely white people. For Asian communities, we’re promised the bounties of white supremacy if we keep our heads down, work hard, and remain complicit. Affirmative action is a prime example. Asian Americans leading the charge against affirmative action are ones immigrating with relatively high socioeconomic statuses (mainly from China, India, and South Korea),who reap the benefits of equal protection clauses while forgetting who led the fight for those protections in the first place. Affirmative action policies in the 1960s and 70s were imperative in desegregating public education, ensuring that Asian students had access to higher education. These battles were often won at the cost of Black lives and labor.
The model minority myth—cajoles us into believing that there is something intrinsic about being Asian that makes us susceptible to success, makes us better than “other people of color” and brings us closer to the ideals of whiteness. Well, guess what. There’s not. Cambodian and Laotian communities hold bachelor’s degrees at the same rate as Black and Latinx communities, and drop out of high school at the same rates. One fourth of Hmong Americans, one fifth of Cambodian and Bangladeshi Americans (PDF) live below the federal poverty line and on public assistance programs. Bhutanese-Nepalese refugees recently gaining asylum in the United States rely on Medicare and cash assistance to survive. Data shows that California’s ban on race conscious affirmative action policies had a devastating impact on Asian students’ admittance rates. While targeted student development programs focused on providing culturally specific resources like the one at the University of California, Berkeley allows first generation college students, like me, a Nepalese first generation college student, to actually graduate with my diploma.
Dividing communities of color to further their xenophobic and racist agenda is nothing new to the Trump Administration that ran campaign ads in Hindi, targeted towards Indian voters, while calling Mexican immigrants criminals. But data shows that most Asian Americans support affirmative action. Jeff Session’s office of propaganda is nothing but a strategic manipulation of false stereotypes cultivated to divide communities of color against one another.
While the Trump Administration’s new investigation seeks to challenge current constitutional law on affirmative action, this investigation also intends to instill fear in students of color and the higher education institutions that support them. An investigation by itself does not change colleges and universities’ rights to build diverse student bodies. Should that legal challenge arise, NWLC will be part of the fight. To other students of color at predominantly white institutions, you belong there. Period.