What a difference five words can make. In a tweet promoting my latest story, I said that some Asian-Americans are not checking the Asian box on college applications "to avoid what they call discrimination." That prompted an interesting question from a cat I had not met named Jabari Bell, who tweeted, "what's the difference between 'discrimination' and 'what Asians call discrimination'?" He included another brother I had not met, Professor Dumi Lewis (his real name is even fresher than that), in the tweet.
This is an important question. It's hard to tell on Twitter, but I think what these dudes were saying was, "Why you half-stepping?" Why not call the proverbial spade a spade?
I tweeted back that since some disagree that Asians are discriminated against in college admissions, I qualified the statement. The colleges themselves, for example, strenuously deny any discrimination (although they would not comment for my story, cough cough). More importantly: If you believe that admission to elite schools should be based solely or primarily on test scores and GPA, then yes, it's easy to call this discrimination. But if you believe that admissions decisions should include other factors in order to assemble a university environment full of different types of people with different skills, experiences, interests and abilities--and that all of the people admitted under this scenario have the ability to be academically successful at that school--then it's harder to call it "discrimination."
Dumi and Jabari had some interesting challenges to my statement. I'd rather let them voice these in their own words rather than describe them myself. I'm eager to hear and learn from what they have to say in a more nuanced space than Twitter. The comment section is below, brothers.
One more thing, though: This question get to the heart of how I do my job at The Associated Press. My goal is to introduce and explore topics that shed light on race and ethnicity in America. Hopefully I can talk about new things, or new aspects to old things (the Asian admissions story was one of those), or introduce readers to people and places they probably would not have otherwise encountered. I specifically avoid taking sides. That's for columnists. I'm a reporter. So to simply call this Asian admissions situation "discrimination" goes against my AP DNA. I'm not saying I don't have a personal opinion on whether or not it's discrimination--I'm saying that expressing this opinion (even subtly, in a Twitter post) would hinder my goal of bringing various people of various beliefs to the table of contemplation and consultation.
So Dumi and Jabarai: What say y'all?
12/5/2011 02:12:49 pm
Glad to comment brotha. I think your attempt to not take sides, is in fact taking sides. As a sociologist, I was trained to treat all discrimination as perceived discrimination. We want to value people's subjective understanding of what discrimination is. If we don't let those who feel oppression speak for themselves, then who will? It is very common for people to talk about discrimination when there is an easily observable pattern such as Black-White relations but that doesn't make this discrimination any more real or the discrimination identified by the multiracial Asian brothers and sisters any less real. Instead, we have to look at what is the harm? who feels it? how do they cope? I think you piece answered all those questions but instead of giving the folks in your story equal discriminatory credentials the "what some called" qualifies it in a way that I don't think we would with Black folks. Let's pretend for sake of argument biracial Black-White applicants didn't check a race for fear of discrimination - would you use the qualifier there? You suggested that you used the qualifier because not all think it's discrimination, which I responded well the majority of whites don't think discrimination is meaningful to black life chances (i cited gallup and krysan's racial attitudes data) either but I guess you would not hesitate to call that discrimination. At the end of the day, I think everyone is entitled to define their own reality and as a reporter, not an op-ed columnist, you must give the most even treatment possible. In this case it seems evenness may be to drop the qualifier unless you'd qualify it for everyone. For the record I think Espenshade and Frank Samson's research on this topic are pretty convincing about discriminatory practices. Please excuse typos. It's late.
I hear you, Dr. Dumi. I think you are looking at this from a higher altitude than I am. I'm choosing my words based on the specific issues at play in this story. I do I believe I have to make a decision whether to qualify discrimination as perceived or not on a case-by-case basis.
12/6/2011 01:14:42 am
If I follow your thesis correctly, Dr. Lewis, you consider that perceived discrimination is discrimination in some form, and that drawing distinctions between the two is a bias in itself.
12/6/2011 02:41:48 am
soooo I'm jumping in late and possibly a bit out of context, since I didn't read the actual story.
12/8/2011 09:35:56 am
@Judith You're on the money with my thesis. Just to be clear, I didn't mention the Jewish Holocaust that was someone else. I think it is the documentation of the Holocaust that makes the claim of discrimination unqualified in part. I think importantly that Washington cites the work of Espenshade in his article which also documents the practice of discrimination. Espenshade and a number of other scholars work make me convinced discrimination is at play -- particularly that rules are being gerrymandered to keep out certain groups of folks.
10/26/2015 12:11:13 pm
Asian students with perfect basis are not being rejected from Yale in favor of dummies who can't do the work.
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Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com