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Soon it will be time to pay at least lip service to the trials and tribulations encountered by Americans of Asian descent throughout American history. To quote from a highly quotable dissent in Korematsu v. United States, the infamous decision that upheld the interment of Japanese Americans in the hysterical opening days of our entering the Second World War, that historical tragedy in two acts:

"I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution."

For an examination of this issue that is both scholarly and alarming, see the fine article by Cory R. Liu in the spring issue of Texas Review of Law & Politics: "Affirmative Action's Badge of Inferiority on Asian Americans." It says everything that needs to be said about this controversy and cause, and maybe then some.

Not until 2011 would the government of these not always United States of America formally renounce and denounce its support of the infamous decision in Korematsu, and so it remains on the law books as a precedent to be cited on sad occasion. Much like the bigoted anti-Asian legislation of the 19th and early 20th centuries--all sad evidence of this country's official and shameless bias against Americans of Asian heritage.

What a contrast with the ups and downs of how black Americans have been treated by law, custom and legal fashion in this country. Asians have yet to experience their own Brown v. Board of Education and all its various legal progeny. While this country's highest court has struck down Jim Crow laws one after the other, Asian Americans still confront stereotypes that stand in the way of their advancement in this country.

"One of the most enduring stereotypes about Asians in America," writes one of those Asian Americans, "is that we are book smart but lacking in social skills, creativity, and independent thought. As the stereotype goes, we may be good at grueling work and studying for exams, but we tend to keep our heads down and stay quiet instead of speaking up and expressing our views. At first glance, the stereotype of academic prowess may appear to be positive, but time and time again, in the halls of elite power, the perception of Asians as one-dimensional bookworms persists." To quote one of those Asian Americans, Buck Gee:

"During my first couple of years in private practice at one of the top commercial boutiques in the United States, my colleagues treated me with the utmost professionalism and dignity, but some of the business people I interacted with did not. The COO [Chief Operating Officer] of a health-care services company once asked me: 'Do you have a fortune cookie that can tell me how this mediation will end?' [A] CEO [Chief Executive Officer] . . . once asked me: 'Do you have your work papers?' A colleague of mine warned me about a representative of another Fortune 500 company who complained during a meeting that there were too many Asians at the University of Texas at Austin. And a lawyer at a brunch of the Houston Bar Association once asked me if he could call me the 'Terracotta Warrior.' From an occasional faux pas to an outright appeal to racial prejudice, American society remains riddled with stereotypes about Asian Americans."

To quote author Eric Liu: "I was keenly aware of the unflattering mythologies that were attached to Asian Americans: that we are indelibly foreign, exotic, math and science geeks, numbers people rather than people people, followers and not leaders, physically frail but devious and sneaky, unknowable and potentially treacherous. These stereotypes of Asian otherness and inferiority were like immense blocks of ice sitting before me, challenging me to chip away at them."

Because they will not melt on their own, especially if the most prejudiced among us are blissfully unaware of their own prejudices. Don't be one of those ignoramuses; it's unbecoming, to say the least.


Paul Greenberg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Editorial on 09/05/2018

Print Headline: The bamboo ceiling


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  • BoudinMan
    September 5, 2018 at 6:06 a.m.

    Surprise. A thoughtful and careful treatment of an indelicate subject by Greenberg. Maybe there is hope for him yet.

  • PopMom
    September 5, 2018 at 7:08 a.m.

    Just as any other ethnic group or race, cultural stereotypes are not always accurate. I hope the Asians win their case against Harvard. My kids' local high school is one of the best in the nation, and it is 40% Asian. Harvard takes two or three kids from every other high school in our county, but 0 from ours. Those selected are either kids of extremely wealthy alums or minority kids. The Asians are getting shafted. Apparently, Harvard has extremely damaging admissions communications discussing "caps" on Asians. While grades and SAT scores are not the sole determination in admissions and extracurriculars should be considered, there appears to be a strong anti-Asian bias at Harvard and Yale. Princeton does not seem to share this bias and takes two or three kids every year from the Asian high school, and many other schools sweep in to take these fine students.