The Myth of Meritocracy

ETA: Apparently, this post has attracted a lot of attention. (Much to my surprise although Hapa Papa has graciously mocked me with, “Do you NOT know how the internet works?”) At any rate, if you are new to my blog, might I kindly steer you to my Site Disclaimer & Comment Policy? You don’t have to read it, but you are responsible for adhering to it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me – that is totally your right. Just like it is my right to not allow any personally insulting or attacking comments. Free speech is guaranteed by the government, not my blog. 

When Hapa Papa and I were first dating, he used to mock me for using big words in common, every day speech. He told me that I was being an elitist and that no one normal could understand me so I should stop showing off. I was greatly offended. I told him, “I had twenty SAT words drilled in my head every week from the 7th grade through Senior year in high school. I read over a hundred books a year. These words are a part of my vocabulary. What the hell were YOU doing in high school? Didn’t you study for the SAT?”

Hapa Papa just shrugged and said that he took the SATs once during his senior year. He didn’t study for it. Didn’t really know he could study for it. He just showed up to take the SAT his senior year. His parents had never spoken to him about college other than telling him he couldn’t go to an expensive one. He assumed he’d attend a community college or something like that. His parents didn’t encourage him to go to college. (ETA: For those of you who are new to my site, Hapa Papa is half Japanese and half German. I am Pro SCA5 even at the supposed detriment to my own children.) He knew nothing about college applications. No counselors told him what to do. He only took one AP class (he can’t remember which subject: English or History) and applied only to one school, Cal State LA (CSULA), and got in (along with some scholarships). That’s it.

I was astounded. More like incredulous. I thought his parents and school were horrible.

“They didn’t tell you anything? You didn’t study at all? You just, ‘showed up’ one day to take the test?”


“Did you go to school in the inner city? Are LA schools really that bad? How is it possible you did not know ANYTHING?”

My sheltered little brain couldn’t conceive of a world in which the parents and teachers did not provide a united push for the sole goal of getting their kids into college. The thing is, Hapa Papa actually went to a pretty good school in LA. (The school where they filmed Grease.) College just wasn’t a big deal for him or his parents. Even now, I still have trouble processing this fact.

This scenario of his would have NEVER occurred in my family or my friends’ families. NEVER. As in IMPOSSIBLE. ZERO% chance.

By the time I was in 7th grade, the next six years of my educational life were geared solely to get into college. I had tutors. Bought SAT books. Took as many AP classes as possible. Joined extracurricular activities in order to look good on my college applications. Took summer school for “easy” throw away classes so I could make room for more AP classes. I had piano and voice lessons. I was in choir and marching band and the Colorguard. Took the SATs (both the original SATs and then the SAT I and II) multiple times in multiple years. Took PSATs. Took assessment tests for the standardized tests. Took multiple AP tests. Went to college fairs and information sessions. Our classes were geared to getting us into as well as succeeding at college.

All my friends were like me to varying degrees. My best friends made up the top 5% of my class and I rounded it out, the dumbest of all my super smart friends. And even then, my weighted high school GPA was well over 4.0. (I’d tell you the exact number but I really don’t remember.) College was NEVER not an option.

Another time, we were hanging out with Hapa Papa’s CSULA friends, (who incidentally, were mostly Latino), and they started reminiscing about college. Wanting to contribute to the conversation and bond with them, I started talking about the dorm life and how the cafeteria food was amazing and like restaurant quality when I realized his friends had all fallen silent and just kind of gave me a blank stare. Embarrassed, my voice petered out and never finished what I had started to say.

Later, Hapa Papa gave me shit for being completely tone deaf to the situation. His friends worked through school and either lived with their parents or in the super cheap fraternity house. Their dorms weren’t fancy and they didn’t have amazing restaurant quality cafeterias. He called me a spoiled little rich girl. I felt foolish and ashamed.

I remember a Latino friend at UCLA telling me how angry he was when he realized just how different his schooling was from the majority of other UCLA students. He felt constantly out of place and kept thinking he didn’t deserve to be at campus even though he was in the top of his high school. He had started to think he was stupid and slow at picking things up when he realized it wasn’t because he was stupid. It was because the other students had ALREADY learned these subjects in high school and were taking them again for an easy “A.”

I remember a black friend at UCLA who was clearly smarter than me, worked harder than me, came from a similar socioeconomic background and completely deserved to be at UCLA and yet, people always assumed he got in because of affirmative action. Even back when I was at UCLA, a time before Prop 209 killed affirmative action, at most there were one or two black students in my classes of three hundred. There were so few black people on campus, even though the student population in the late 1990s was approximately 35,000, they knew all the other black students by sight if not by name.

Where am I going with all this?

This past week, I have seen many of my Asian friends post “No on SCA5” on their Facebook feeds, linking articles on how the bill is racist and discriminatory and how it is a new version of the Chinese Exclusion ActSCA5 would repeal provisions of Prop 209 and allow the State of California to deny an individual or group’s rights to public education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. In layman’s terms, SCA5 would re-allow CA to use race as admissions criteria for UCs and CSUs. Basically, to re-allow affirmative action in UCs and CSUs.

According to UC data, the UC’s 2013 freshman class was 36% Asian, 28.1% white, 27.6% Latino and 4.2% black. At some campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Irvine, Asians are more than 45% of admitted freshmen this year. As of 2010, Asians made up only 14.9% of CA’s population.

If SCA5 passes and UCs and CSUs want to increase Latino and black student populations, due to the immutable properties of math, Asian and white student populations will decrease. And since Asians make up the predominant group, it is highly likely Asians would be the most affected. Understandably, many people (especially Asians) are up in arms over this.

I get why my Asian friends are angry and upset over SCA5. When I was applying for colleges, I remember debating whether or not I should tick off “Asian” when applying. After all, that could hurt my chances to get into school. And now, if SCA5 passes and isn’t repealed, when it comes turn for my children to attend university, their chances of getting into their colleges of choice will also be impacted.

It doesn’t seem fair. Why should blacks, Latinos, and heck, whites, get my kids’ spot just because of their race? They should work hard, get good grades and EARN their way – just like the rest of us.

But what is fair? On the surface, merit-based ONLY (the status quo) seems fair. But is it?

I want meritocracy to be true. I don’t want to admit that I did not get to where I am by myself – that I had help. But truthfully, I did. I benefited from tutors, better teachers, schools, and environment. I grew up without the expectation of violence. I had trusted advisors (who had already gone to college) show me what I needed to do in order to get into UCLA or similar institutions. Many of my extra-curricular activities were possible because my family had enough money so that A) I could do these things and pay for the materials they required and B) I wouldn’t have to work because I wasn’t expected to contribute to the family income.

In addition, I grew up in an environment where attending college was the rule not the exception. Being Taiwanese and the daughter of two MBA graduates makes it assumed that I would make good grades and go to a good school. Whatever you think of the “model minority myth,” society constantly reinforced the idea that I was smart, great at math and sciences, and would likely become a doctor.

I want to believe that I am singularly awesome and responsible for my success. I don’t want to believe that the black or Latino student who didn’t get into UCLA likely could’ve gotten in and done BETTER than I had they my advantages. Who wants to think that of themselves?

But when I honestly look at myself and my work ethic (or complete lack thereof), if situations were reversed and I was in an environment where succeeding at school was considered being a “race traitor” or I had few examples of academic success or all of society was telling me that I could only be successful as either a rap star or an athlete but never an intelligent human being and that I was most likely a thief, a thug, or a drug dealer and going to be knocked up at fourteen or incarcerated, I really don’t think I would have the mental fortitude or personal strength to overcome all of that. 

Even just from the anecdotes I included at the beginning of this post, without doing any research at all (which also backs up what I am saying), it is evident that there are huge differences in student backgrounds.

Money, neighborhoods, schools, race, and cultural expectations make it impossible to have a level playing field. 

Obviously, not ALL blacks and Latinos grow up in poverty. That is clearly false. However, at 12.6%, Asians have half the poverty rates of Latinos (23.6%) and African Americans (24.2%) in California. (Whites are at 9.8%.) So, even though not ALL blacks and Latinos have to overcome immense hurdles, many do. Besides, I’m not worried about the rich and middle-class black/Latino kids. They would get into the UCs and CSUs without affirmative action. But this helps blacks and Latinos who may not have the same grades (especially weighted grades) or access to AP classes, tutors, etc. and had to overcome overwhelming odds to get the opportunity to attend school.

Furthermore, even though Asian households have the highest median income in America, that fails to distinguish between different ethnic groups with different histories. When divided up by ethnicity, the majority of economic and academic success is concentrated in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian Americans. Cambodians (14.6%), Hmong (16%), Laotians (13%), and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese (26.1%), have college graduation rates lower than the US national average (28%). Additionally, one in five Hmong and Bangladeshi people live in poverty.

These are the Asians most likely to be hurt by SCA5. (Not the vast majority of Asians who are protesting on Facebook.)

There are no easy answers. There are limited spots. But sometimes, people in privilege have to give up some of theirs in order to allow other people a seat at the table. That is the burden and responsibility of being in a “majority” or in a seat of privilege. And in this case, I would consider Asians to be in the majority since they occupy a huge portion of spots at the UCs and CSUs.

Remember, Asians benefited greatly from the advocacy and rights of blacks and Latinos. We benefit from their fights for racial equality yet rarely do anything to help out their causes when we could. We Asians think that we achieved all our successes by ourselves when we wouldn’t even be in the conversation if it were not for blacks demanding their civil rights. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

How hypocritical for Asians to demand opportunities in situations where we clearly benefit but not offer others that same opportunity where we would NOT benefit? Where would we be in other areas (bamboo and glass ceilings) if many whites did not give up some of THEIR privilege? Where would we be if blacks and Latinos had not fought for equal opportunities in employment, housing, and education?

Though much of our personal successes are due to our hard work, how much of that would have mattered if our rights were not secure in the first place? We Asians forget that we stand on top of the backs of our black and Latino friends as they paved the way and fought for our right to be here. 

What good does it do us if we succeed at the expense of blacks and Latinos? Who will come to our aid when we need it? (And believe me, we will need it.)

We are too afraid and pinning too much of our hopes and dreams on getting into certain schools. The truth is, there are so many opportunities out there. It SEEMS like a zero sum game where there is one pie and fuck it we’re losing some of our slice to blacks and Latinos. But in reality, our kids who would succeed at UCs and CSUs would succeed in many different schools. They will be fine. There are SO MANY pies. (Mmmm… pies…) UCs and CSUs are NOT the only game in town. There are many ways to succeed.

We do not need to fear.

Ultimately, is SCA5 fair? I don’t think so. But until I see Asians rallying with equal fervency against the unfairness of impoverished schools, the many Latino and black kids in underperforming school districts, living in areas of violence, drugs, broken families, and hardship, which, unsurprisingly, leads to it being much more difficult to do well in school (especially if you may be the first kid in your family to go to college), I am going to vote Yes on SCA5.

Suggested Reading:

Top 5 Anti-Affirmative Action Myths About SCA-5

NY Times: Asian Americans in the Argument

Civil Rights 101

14 Important Statistics on Asian Americans

Poverty in California

Reflections on the Rise of Asian Americans or Don’t Believe the Hype

Intelligence Squared Affirmative Action Debate (Hat Tip: Andrea Lee)

Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action for College Bound Students

Minorities and Whites Follow Unequal College Paths

A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork

30 thoughts on “The Myth of Meritocracy

  1. Help the latino and black, I agree, but not at the expense of punishing other people unfairly like this. Allow race and gender been considered in public education is a huge step back, today is education, what is tomorrow? Job? Investment? Being President?
    If we want to help people, there’re plenty of ways, do not use a racism way. I’m sure Nazi made the reason to kill the Jews very persuasive, but wrong is wrong.
    Latino and black people’s efforts helped Asian, true; but Asian also helped them in some way, i.e. Asian people have a higher median income therefore more tax goes to the low-income people, isn’t that count?

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Bingfa. Several thoughts on your comment:

    1) I can see how it can seem as if Asians (and to a lesser extent, whites – although I don’t hear any weeping for all those poor, disenfranchised white people) are being punished. And for the hard-working Asian kid who might otherwise have gotten into a UC or CSU, it most certainly feels like that!

    However, I would ask you to consider why a smart kid who does not have access to tutoring, AP classes, and many advantages that come from money and culture, why should they be “punished” for being born into a class or parents who could not help them? They certainly are also hardworking – and perhaps even moreso.

    But this is not a contest to see who works harder or is more “punished.” Neither kid controls what race, class, or opportunities to which they are born.

    2) I am not sure how allowing race and gender into investments (in terms of the stock market) is possible.

    As for politics in general, race and gender are most certainly considered. Taking into account ONLY members of the 2013 US Congress (which incidentally, is the most diverse ever), minorities make up 19% of the House of Representatives and 5% of the US Senate. If you look only at the Asians, even though we make up 4.8% of the general US population, only 2% in the House and 3% are in the Senate.

    When you consider that despite white males being only approximately 36% of the US population, 68% of the House and 80% of the Senate are white males, race and gender are most certainly taken into account.

    And as for being President, considering that of the 44 US Presidents we’ve had since inception and only the latest one is NOT white and 100% have been male, you cannot in all seriousness say that gender and race are not already considered.

    3) To conflate supporting SCA5 to supporting the Nazi party is not only specious but also inflammatory and not helpful to the conversation. Also, it trivializes the deaths of the 11million people the Nazis killed, of which 6 million were Jews.

    Thus far, zero people are projected to die from SCA5.

    4) As for Asian American households helping blacks and Latinos by contributing the income tax for the poor, please consider the following facts: the poverty rate in CA of Latinos is 23.6% and for blacks is 24.2%. Only about 10% of the federal welfare budget is spent on the non-working poor (but really, this money is available to both working and non-working poor), which is about 5% of the total US budget (of which 46% is from income taxes).

    If you do the math (and of course, this is approximate and very generalized), 2.3% of your income tax dollar goes to the federal welfare budget on the non-working poor. Of that, 1.1% of it goes to poor blacks and Latinos. That’s $0.01 for every federal income tax dollar.

    If you want to include CA income tax dollars on top of that, (since this is CA), approximately 1% of state tax goes to public assistance (of which ~25% is from income taxes). If you do the math, that means 0.25% of every state income tax dollar goes to public assistance. That’s $0.0025. If we break it down further to include poor blacks and Latinos, that’s $0.0012.

    This is, of course, not taking into account the 76.4% of NON-impoverished Latinos and 75.8% of NON-impoverished blacks Asian Americans are NOT helping.

    5) As for “wrong is wrong,” well, that I can’t really argue with you. Personally, I don’t think “wrong” is that black and white (pardon the pun). Yes, you could say that it is “wrong” to have spots that originally would have gone to Asian students go to black and Latino students.

    But I could also say it is “wrong” to have some children (and keep in mind, these students are all children) get into good schools because they have access to resources while other children do NOT get into good schools because they do NOT have access to these resources. This is not to blame the children of privilege because it is no more their fault for being born privileged than it is the fault of poor children for being born poor.

    But of course, to buy into my argument, one would have to acknowledge the concept of privilege – especially privilege as it pertains to growing up Asian American. And while it is easy to see the privilege other people have (especially when it is to our advantage to do so, eg: white privilege), it is much harder to see our own privilege.

    Thanks again for commenting, Bingfa. I apologize for the length of my response (it could certainly be its own post!) but I wanted to give your comment the time and rigor it deserved.

    Have a great day!

    • It’t not that you were born with privilege. It is that your privilege is based on the sacrifices of your parents—their time and money to invest in you instead of being lazy, selfish, squaring money, making babies and counting on public assistance for survival. I would be heartbroken if my daughter grows up and failed to see the sacrifice of mine– and that of other hardworking Asian pioneers— upon which her success will rely. You are a spoiled, democrat-brainwashed liberal kid, not knowing what hardships means for your parents and the Asian community. I support helping children no matter of their skin color, but that must be done through a fair measure. And remember, the best help is from inner within. Many assistance programs have proven it.

      • Andrea, thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. It is clear this is a topic you are very passionate about. However, please consider this your first and only warning. You are certainly entitled to your opinion about SCA5 and its related issues (even if quite a bit of it is incredibly racist). You are not, however, entitled to insult me. I did not approve your other comment because: A) it was posted in an unrelated area and B) it was incredibly insulting as well as rude.

        I welcome rational and considerate discussion and if you choose to comment further in that manner, I have no issue with you continuing to post here. On the other hand, if you continue along the same tone and manner of your current two comments, you will be banned.

    • I definitely agree with your ideas, unfortunately i cannot agree with you answer. Voting yes for SCA5 in my opinion will only hurt more people then it will help more people. You can ask me why if you care to know my opinion, or you can use your own logic and figure it out. The other thing that bothered me was your comment about most of the Asians complaining on facebook won’t even be affected. Really…..
      ok that’s all

      • Lil Shawdow, I thank you for understanding my feeling. There will be two options for me. One is that I raise my daughter- my only child so far, and be responsible for her, which means I care about her upbringing and try my best to raise her to be a good citizen. The other is that I give birth to 3 or 4 more kids( Yes, I LOVE children and dreamed of having more children of my own surrounding me), but the government needs to support them. With our current income level, I can barely feed them well if I have 3 or 4 children. But it doesnot matter. The government will help. And when it is time for them to go to college, it does not matter. The government will help because they are underrepresented.

        BUT when I think about it deeply, I realized that NONE of the options WILL work for me. I raise my child well and be a responsible person, the door is closed for my daughter because people of other skin color are underrepresented; I behave irresponsibly, live my life and raise my children without any plan and discipline, my children still will not get the care as other children will do, because they donot have the right skin color.

        What is wrong with me being responsible for my own behaviors BUT be PUNISHED for being so?? Just because of my SKIN COLOR?? It’s true that children are innocent. But if some children have irresponsible parents, the first thing they need to learn is to be responsible parents themselves when they grow up, and to have the commitment to work hard and make a change. It takes GENERATIONS to achieve real progress. Charity program like SCA5 will not solve the problem from the root but will only raise the dependence level on the government. Various educational programs in the community and better public education in K-12, in my understanding, will work better.

        I love children and hope the world is a better place for all children. How the world is like today says much about the adults—YOU, ME, and ALL OF US. What are the real challenges in today’s world? Do we have the courage to tackle those problems and make a change? What do children who live in poverty and violence and incomplete families really need? It is LOVE, CARE, VALUE, ESTEEM, DREAM, and WORK ETHIC. Not a SCA5 that does injustice to hardworking Asians and benefits, most likely, not the poor kids but the well-to-do Black and Latino kids. My dear Cogressman Hernandez: do you really care about working on those issues for the kids? Or do you care more about the votes?

        I feel pretty sad, not just for my daughter, but also for the poor kids that I feel my heart for. But I will hang on there– be a responsible adult and fight, not just for my daughter, but for justice and a better world for all children.

        One last thing: SCA5 is not AA, if you understand what I mean. I actually agree with AA in all its right applications. But SCA5 in the fake form of AA? I am not a fool. So are other Asians.

    • Hi Jiushi, Thanks for taking the time to comment! I vote yes because even though SCA5 isn’t fair, I find it better than the alternative of Prop 209 which is also unfair. In life, as I’m sure you have experienced, it is possible for all options to be unfair and we can only choose what we think will cause the least amount of harm (or alternatively, do the most amount of good). That is, of course, a relatively subjective choice.

  3. Let’s build a base for both of us:
    –however, I would ask you to consider why a smart kid who does not have access to tutoring, AP classes, and many advantages that come from money and culture, why should they be “punished” for being born into a class or parents who could not help them? They certainly are also hardworking – and perhaps even moreso.
    We both agree that access to these resource can be contributing factor for the college dis-representation. But, how can you reach that college enrollment should be judged by race?
    Thinking about this situation: a chinese kid from a poor family is punished by his color of skin despite of his hard working and high SAT score, while your 3 latino kids having unlimited resource are greatly boosted by their skin color. DOES GOD ONLY BLESS LATINOS?
    Socioeconomical status, not SKIN COLOR should be considered in college enrollment!

    • Hi Cryopharm. Thank you for taking the time to comment (and in a particularly helpful manner). You are certainly correct that a poor Asian kid is disproportionately affected by SCA5. I’m not sure which three latino kids of mine you’re referring to since my kids are Asian, but totally understandable to make that mistake since you don’t actually know who I am.

      As for God blessing only Latinos, I believe that God’s Chosen people are the Jews and through them, God blesses all the Gentiles (of which Latinos and Asians are among). 😉 So, No, God does not bless only Latinos. But then, who are we to decide who God can bless?

      I do think there should be a greater socio-economic consideration, but I don’t think it should be the only one. Race should be considered because in life (as I’m sure you have experienced), race is a big factor in how people are treated both in society at large, as well as on an individual basis. To discount race entirely is naive and not realistic in terms of how race affects a child (no matter how rich they are) and their every day life.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  4. Pingback: What’s the Worst that Can Happen? | Mandarin Mama

  5. Hi Mandarin Mama,

    I am currently a Chinese high school senior who is waiting for her acceptance letters to UC’s. I want to start off by saying that I, too, have been groomed as a child to one day attend a 4-year after high school. I would like to consider myself as living in an affluent white neighborhood in Southern California, but not in the sense that it’s a gated community. I can honestly say that I am literally experiencing what you did in high school.

    I would like to say your article interests me, not that you support the amendment, but your willingness to put your children’s future at risk. I’m very curious as to how you will raise your children based on the idea of saying no to meritocracy, and what your plans are for them.

    After reading this article, I feel as though you believe poverty-stricken Americans do not have access to higher institutions of education after high school. That is not true. I attend a high school where 65% of its students (mostly white and Asian) go to a community college before a 4-year. It’s not because they didn’t have the grades or the letters of rec, it’s because they had more knowledge about both paths toward universities: the straight to 4-year path, and the community college transfer. I think it’s important to keep in mind that community college is an option for all Americans, affluent or not. A good majority of Americans believe that community college is inferior, and therefore we focus all our efforts and attention on the coveted 4-year UC/CSU system. Community college is the middle ground for those students that work hard but cannot get into a 4-year. You do not need good grades or a lot of money to attend a community college, and the resources at a community are just as good as any UC’s or CSU’s. (A professor at my local community college wrote the Marine Biology textbook that is being used by students at UC Santa Cruz!)

    Also, we must keep in the mind that there is a huge gap between universities and public high schools. This gap does not discriminate high schools in wealthy areas and those in poverty. Along with the expenses and the strenuous curriculum, 4-year universities are usually too large a leap for high school graduates on all spectrums of the socioeconomic scale. This is one of the reasons why my peers have chosen community college. They felt like they weren’t ready to leave home and attend a competitive university right out of high school. If that’s to be said of affluent students, we should consider the danger of placing a low-income student, who hasn’t experienced that amount of pressure in high school, into that kind of stressful environment in a 4-year.

    Have you considered that it’s not merit that universities consider, but what the merit symbolizes? That is the ability to stand through the hell of mid-terms and university level finals, and maintain sanity. Should we allow this amendment, it would be detrimental to students of all races more so than it is at the status quo because we are placing students into educational institutions that are wrong for them.

    I strongly believe that this reform is moving in the wrong direction, and we shouldn’t pass it. I’m not saying that because I’m Asian, but because it’s straight out unconstitutional and highly disrespectful towards the community college systems that have been there for the inner-city kids and helped them transfer into 4-year colleges. We should be placing reform on educating low-income students about the community college path, and extend the reach of community colleges nationwide in order to benefit all students. This amendment is blatantly unfair, and I’m sure you’ll agree that you’ll be upset if the only reason your child couldn’t be accepted to his dream school is because he falls just shy of the “ethnic quota” at a university.

    I hope this is something you will consider because I truly believe that you do not need to step down and sacrifice your rights as a minority in order for lower class students to obtain better education. There is middle ground for both sides of the argument. I do not expect you to be persuaded by my individual argument, but I suggest that you look further into the community college system and how much help they’ve been to students from all kinds of backgrounds. I wish you the best of luck with your endeavors as a mother. It’s admiring to know that there are mothers out there looking out for other’s children.

    • Hi Brittany, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I am sure you will do well at college and in life!

      Hopefully, I can address the majority of your comments and if I miss any, I do apologize. 🙂

      1) In regards to my own children, I will do my best to provide them with all the advantages that our race, class, culture and money can provide. To do otherwise is foolish and doing my children a disservice.

      However, just because I want my kids to succeed in life doesn’t mean that this requires other people to fail. I want all children to have the opportunity and benefits that I can provide for my children. That can only benefit society as a whole. Of what use is it to me if only my kids and kids like them to do well? Why would I want to live in a world surrounded by mediocrity? If people are trapped in cycles of poverty, even purely out of self-interest, I should want my fellow citizens to do well.

      2) As for community college for the lower classes, indeed, on the face of it, sounds like a great solution. Unfortunately, community colleges have lower graduation rates, result in lower paying jobs, and two in three blacks and nearly three in four Latinos already attend. If you were a high-achieving black or Latino student, why would you want to atend community college if you could attend an elite university? Surely, they would want the same for themselves as you would want for yourself.

      I highly recommend you take a look at this article:

      One of the points that particularly resonated with me was: “Students with low scores on college-admission tests graduate from top schools at a higher rate than high scorers do from open-access schools.”

      3) As for the “danger” in allowing lower class students into elite universities due to the not experiencing pressure in high school, while well-meaning, is also inaccurate as well as perniciously classist. Many high-achieving, economically challenged students are very used to high pressure. These students not only get good grades, they do so while working long hours in the evenings and weekends to provide for their families WHILE in school full time. Often, they take care of younger siblings and family members as well as deal with safety issues, possible drugs and violence (depending on the neighborhood), and sometimes, with English as a second language.

      Furthermore, if we are really interested in protecting students from the danger of feeling unready, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “David and Goliath,” we really shouldn’t be sending our students to Ivy League schools because it actually makes smart kids feel inadequate and stupid and causes many of them to give up.

      4) As for whether or not I would be devastated should my children not get into their dream school, I think this is where my being older and having more life experience kicks in. In fact, although I’m sure I would feel bad for my kids, (after all, who wants their children to suffer?), I am pretty sure I won’t be devastated. Disappointed on their behalf, likely, but not destroyed or despondent. In fact, it would likely do them some good.

      I think what I mean to say is that we have such a narrow definition of what success is and what it should look like. At least, I did when I was in high school. I was convinced that if I didn’t get into certain schools that I would fail at life. But the truth is, there are many good schools out there and I know many of my friends who did NOT get into their dream school. (I sure didn’t! I wanted to go to Harvard or Stanford – but I turned out just fine.) These friends still went on to have brilliant, happy, and wonderful times at a different college – as well as go on to have successful jobs and careers.

      Thanks to Facebook, I can also see that many of my high school classmates who did not attend elite universities and perhaps went to state or smaller schools still turned out just fine with satisfying jobs that can support their families and their chosen lifestyles.

      Thanks again for commenting (and for inspiring a few future posts), Brittany. I wish you much success in life and at school – wherever you end up, I can tell you will make the most of it.


    I hope the debate among prominent professors on Affirmative Action in the above link will help in your judgement.

    I am still posting here is because I think you are being honest, a merit that I cherish.

    Again, I cherish merits rather than ineffective give aways, especially when it is manipulated by speculative politicians utilizing the tyranny of democracy through majority vote. It endangers some fundamental principles of this great nation that has served as the light house to people all over the world. If the principles fall and fail, the nation will fall quickly. Even a poor peasant in China knows success comes from hard work and merits, and there is a saying in China that a noble person takes three generations to make. The miracle of the rise of China lies in it—hard work and commitment of generations. My parents are poor workers in small cities who tried every way they could to make a little extra and saved every penny for the benefits of their children. I am living a lower middle class life here in the States and would use all my resources to raise my daughter to be a better person who could achieve and contribute more to the society. Now some people are trying to close the door for kids like my daughter. Sorry, I have no way but being outraged.

    If SCA5 indeed passed and became the law, it only indicates one thing that this nation is falling in an uncontrollable measure and is falling fast. I will doubt if it is a right decision of mine to let my daughter to be an American rather than a Chinese. Hopefully, it will just turn out that it’s a learning experience of the American democratic process and I do not have to go through the struggles. But the deeply rooted practice of racism against Asian Americans, past and present, in many forms including higher education admission, hardly makes me an optimistic.

    • Hi Andrea, Thanks for the link! It was very informative and helpful. It didn’t change my mind much, but I do find the arguments on both sides to be well thought out and well presented. I imagine that like most things, we read such debates for points that support our point of view even when we think we are being objective. Thanks again for the link.

      I can totally understand why you are outraged about SCA5 – especially in light of your personal and familial struggles and sacrifices. No doubt, with lots of hard work and great sacrifice to their personal comfort, your family has bent all of their will to the success of yourself and your daughter. You have my admiration.

      Unfortunately, no matter how good-intentioned a policy is in terms of percentages and groups of people, the consequences are always felt on an individual level. Whether your daughter or someone else’s son, it would do us well to remember that all the folks who are affected are children and children foremost.

      The children who would benefit from affirmative action are high achieving blacks and Latinos with high test scores and good grades. They are likely also working to help provide for their families on top of overcoming other challenges. Of course, these kids are not the only kids who work hard, but I want to make this distinction because for some reason, we tend to think that affirmative action is letting in mediocre students. I really thought the point that Theodore Shaw (in the link you recommended) made a particularly salient point:

      “No one talks about stigma being visited upon women who have been beneficiaries of conscious efforts to open up opportunities in higher education. No one talks about stigma being visited upon white students who may have lower GPAs than Asian-American students or lower test scores. The only stigma conversation is the stigma with respect to African-Americans, people of color but particularly African-Americans. And I submit to you that that fact reflects that we
      continue to struggle even in 2014 with the age-old rumors of intellectual inferiority of African Americans.”

      No one doubts how hard-working Asian students are – yet we somehow doubt the hard-work of blacks and Latinos. That makes me sad.

      Thanks again for commenting, Andrea. I’m sure you are voting as you see best for America and for your daughter.

  7. After reading this, I have a few questions
    1. Isn’t it true that colleges have already made the standards lower for these “underprivileged” students? I hear so many stories about African American students getting into great private schools with a 3.2 gpa or something. Do they need so much support that they basically have to cap the amount of Asians admitted? (Not an official quota of course but you understand what I mean) it’s true that Asians make up a large portion of college campuses but I Wouldn’t say that having supportive parents who hire tutors mean that they were given an unfair advantage which brings me to my next question.
    2. Does having parents and tutors subtract from a student’s accomplishment? I mean obviously they help but so much of that is based on culture. As an Asian I know how much emphasis my parents put into my education (and u can attest to that feeling) and like you, not going to a college is not (I’m in high school) an option. Am I given an unfair advantage because my culture places a large emphasis on school? Is it anyone’s fault but their (non-Asians) own parents’ for not pushing them to study for things like the SAT? I just don’t think you can take something like that to say they were underprivileged because there are so many different types of parents out there Also, I am a first generation Asian-American (born in Taiwan) and when I came to America, I couldn’t even speak English and my parents certainly did not and do not know connections or strategies for college admissions. Am I at an advantage in comparison to those who had English as a first language?
    3. Do Asians owe African Americans or Latinos because they pushed for equal rights? I mean yes their work helps me today but does that mean I should be discriminated against on account of my race to repay them? Isn’t that against what civil rights is about? I’m all for helping those less privileged but helping them in this manner seems wrong. It would make more sense to me to start by reforming secondary schools before college admissions.
    4. Finally, does taking race into account really help the underprivileged? You said yourself that not all Latinos or African Americans are in poverty, what makes you think that those who are in less favorable conditions are the ones being accepted into schools? Could it not be true that an African American who goes to the same school as me, lives in the same neighborhood as me, and has lower test score/grades than me be the benefactor because they would be exposed to the same teachers and resources as me but with an additional boost made by SCA 5? Could you say beyond a doubt that the students who replace the hole left by Asians will be the ones that require assistance? You said the poverty rate for African Americans and Latinos are twice that of Asians but isn’t it true that the population of those 2 groups are several times that of Asians? So wouldn’t it follow that the number of African Americans/Latinos living above the poverty line would be equal to if not more than Asians who do? Thus, couldn’t the benefactors of SCA 5 be the African American/Latinos who live in the same conditions as Asians like you and me who have these “advantage” but simply did not achieve the same level of achievements?
    One last point, colleges know which schools offer AP and which do not and they take that into account.

    I apologize for the long comment but this can affect me directly and I am pretty passionate about it

    • Hi Alan, thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully, I can address some of your points, however, if I miss any, I do apologize. In those instances, I’m sure Google will come in handy (especially for checking facts).

      1) No, colleges have not lowered standards for underprivileged students. (No need for quotes since the students are indeed underprivileged, and not just allegedly or pretending to be.) Colleges have changed what it means to be a “qualified” student, but ultimately, what does it benefit a school if it churns out graduates that are unqualified and unworthy? That would not be in the school’s best interest.

      I recommend checking out this article for some good points:

      2) No, having resources does not subtract from a student’s accomplishments – after all, I’m sure that the student still has to study and work hard and put in the time and effort to do well. It is not a privileged student’s fault that they were born to parents who have resources or a culture that emphasizes academic achievement.

      However, it is also NOT an underprivileged student’s fault that they were born to parents who do NOT have resources or the ability to provide additional help. And again, we are not talking about just admitting ANY and ALL underprivileged students. We are talking about admitting HIGH-ACHIEVING economically hurting students. Kids who study just as hard, with far fewer resources, and who most likely also work on nights and weekends to help provide for their families.

      As for you personally, I have no idea whether or not you are at an advantage or disadvantage. Likely, you are both!

      Also, for me personally, those resources make a big difference. I know that just by having taken classes to prep for the SATs (even a cheapo prep class through my high school) and buying the expensive books for my self study improved my scores. Not to mention having a clear cut blueprint in telling me what classes to take, what grades to get, what scores I needed, what types of extra-curriculars I would need – those all helped. In lesser schools, counselors are overwhelmed and sometimes due to bias, don’t even encourage black or Latino students to TRY for college.

      3) I don’t know that Asians “owe” blacks and Latinos for equal rights, but I do know that without them, our good grades and working hard wouldn’t count for shit because we wouldn’t be allowed at the schools anyway.

      Also, since Asians make up 4.8% of the total US population, it would behoove us to not always just look out for ourselves, but to work with other groups. Because quite frankly, 4.8% is not enough to make change all on our own. We need blacks and Latinos. Many of my black friends fight for my rights as an Asian. It is only right to fight for their rights when I can.

      4) Your last point is a bit overwhelming and quite frankly, I’m not sure if you’re actually looking for an answer. After all, of course no one can say “beyond all doubt.”

      I would urge you to look at some of my other comments – especially to look at the link Andrea provided. Even though she provided it to prove affirmative action is bad, the transcript is also useful for answering some of your questions about why affirmative action can be good.

      Thanks again for your comment, Alan. Your passion is a good thing and I wish you all the best in college (and its applications). I have no doubt you will do well in life.

  8. Appreciate all the discussions and thoughts. I think it is important to think about the status quo and the flaws of the current system. I’m not super knowledgeable in the area and cannot provide all possible flaws of the current system. But one thing I’m sure is that SCA-5 does not address all the possible issues without creating additional discriminations.

    Debating if one should vote Yes or No on this SINGLE bill, creates divides between different races, ethnic groups and socioeconomic classes. This is detrimental to the unity of people of color and the struggles of low-income families of all races.

    The victories in 60s came about because people of different race, ethnic and income were willing to work together. I would urge people to think beyond this bill and consider alternate solutions, AND not allow this bill to divide us, and conquer us.

  9. I truly admire everything you said in your post Mandarin Mama. There are not many people who would be willing to acknowledge their own privilege, or to give up some of the benefits they receive from their privilege for the sake of equality.

    I want to add that affirmative action should not be the long-term solution. Hopefully we won’t need it one day because society will be more or less equal. But unfortunately, we are no where close right now.


  10. Interesting perspective!

    After reading your blog, I have one question, it is not race which is the issue here, it is the income level which is at stake here. Rather than base the public college’s admission on race and gender, why not based on tax return. Based on your thought process, SCA 5 should be modified to be income based, this will help the poor Latino & Black, not punish the poor Asian’s as well. Affluent people will always find a way to take care of your kids or not, if they so choose to.

    With a few logical flaws, first of all, this is America, it is a country where people has a dream to do better for themselves and their kids; that’s why people come here, for a better life. I agree with you that there is a culture differences among the different races, Asian are very keen on educating their next generation; even the affluent Latino and Black families do not come close to the extreme, imagine the less affluent. But SCA 5 is not the solution. We are talking about college admission here, if you lower the standard (don’t tell me that the standard will not be lowered) for admission, would you lower the standard for graduation also? if not, many will not graduate even they get in based on their race.

    Global competition is race and color blind, so is the competition with United States. California High Tech industry employee population, 50% are Asian and Asian American (( UC & CSU are the crown Jew of world public education system, change the merit based admission policy, will result in less STEM graduate for many industries in california.

    I think SCA 5 is a good thing, it started a debate of what needs to be done for the current state of California K12 education. We need to help Latino and Black students study in K12 and get admission based on MERIT.

  11. Pingback: If I Had To Do College All Over Again | Mandarin Mama

  12. I would like to address your arguments point by point:
    1. It is true that most of us middle class Asians have been exposed to test prep and tutoring, etc. But you are forgetting the reason why. The reason is because it takes the average Asian student a higher SAT score to get into an Ivy League school or a UC, than even a white student, let alone black and Hispanic students. This test score discrepancy is well known and well documented. We have to work harder, just to get to the same place as other students. SCA-5 will make this disparity even worse. Is this what you want for your kids?
    2. You mentioned that Asian students could go to Cal State if they couldn’t make it into the UC of their choice. This is correct. So could all those black and Hispanic students who can’t make it into the UCs. What is wrong with telling these minority students to go to Cal State and community colleges? If anything it would be a better fit for them, and they would have a better chance of graduating and getting a good enough grade to continue onto a post-grad institution.
    3. You talk a lot about blacks and hispanics living in poverty. I think everyone is aware of the hardship that poor students of every ethnic group has to face. Nobody has a problem with helping poor students. However a race-based program does not accomplish that. All it does is give middle class blacks and Hispanics an unearned advantage.
    4. Students from underperforming schools already have affirmative action working in their favor. The top 9% in any California school, is guaranteed a spot in a UC. You can call this a quota system for helping poor students. So even if you cannot afford any kind of test prep or tutoring, you could still make it into a UC if you do well in your local high school. We do not need a race based system.
    5. As for making sacrifices to make room for others at the table- that is a good and noble sentiment. I am open to that. But what about places where Asians are underrepresented? How come nobody else is making any sacrifices to include us? Why isn’t there affirmative action to get more Asians onto the football and basketball teams? A lot of non-Asian parents groom their kids through little leagues and sports camps, and place a lot of emphasis on high school sports, etc. Most of us Asians never had that type of parenting. So we are disadvantaged there. Why won’t anyone else make allowance for us? Why is it that only Asians are asked to sacrifice?

  13. Hi Virginia,

    Thanks for the effort to respond to each of my email. I have read each of your blogs during the weekend and I came to believe that you are a warmhearted Californian who put the interest of the state above others.

    I think you may have heard the interview Dr. Larry Eldar had with Dr. Ed Hernandas but just in case, here is it again:

    It’s much appreciated if you can listen to each party carefully and not to judge it by how the party talks. Fact is fact, isn’t it?

    As you might have heard, SCA-5 is being shelved at Assembly for lack of benefit and support among Californians:

    I would suggest you starting new blogs in promoting K-12 education, so the groups with less social-economic advantage, like non-affluential Latinos can refocus on college preparation and readiness, so the much needed resource will be fairly and effectively allocated to all Californians, to build a stronger state, instead of welfare state.


    • Hi Yao, thanks for taking the time to comment and for reading the blog! That’s a lot of posts to go through! Thanks for the link to the Sac Bee. I hadn’t yet heard. All the best to you!

  14. You might think it is spiffy for the state to tell you that you would be denied admission because you are not the “correct race,” but I doubt most parents whose children would be negatively affected by legalized racial discrimination to jump for joy.

  15. it’s not fair you keep taking what I want to say and say it 1000 times better. It doesn’t feel good to feel you or your kids are excluded. But have to keep the bigger picture in mind. It’s kind of how I feel about taxes.

  16. This is a very late response but I am currently doing a policy analysis and chose Prop 209 and SCA 5 AND stumbled across your blog. I think the intentions of the of the Propositions were in the right direction but it’s the wrong methods. Also I think the reason why a lot of people have a negative reaction to your response is because if you get knit picky, you are not impacted by the Proposition. You are the Asian Success Model and if you were to applying to college as an applicant, you would be probably would be in compeititon with Southeast Asian minority populations who don’t have your social, ecnomoic, and cultural capital, the outcome is obvious. Diversity is getting more and more complicated and I see this Proposition only being on a fair basis is if Asians are catagorized into further sub-topics. Even though it wasn’t sent to ballots I’m not sure what my take on it is yet because its a major ethical dilemma but I’m leaning towards against it because I believe it will be a gateway to further complicated problems and worst of all. The introduction of SCA 5 has turned minority against minority which a setback to collaboration and innovation. A strategy for someone who does not want change is to add chaos so no change can happen and for some odd reason I can’t help but picture some elder caucasian elitist sitting on a chair in his office chuckling as we squabble for scraps while his plate is full. The complications of diversity, equality, and access in one pot……….. gotta love it.

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