The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

"School District Decides Asians Aren't Students of Color"


Robby Soave (Reason) reports:

One school district in Washington state has evidently decided that Asians no longer qualify as persons of color.

In their latest equity report, administrators at North Thurston Public Schools—which oversees some 16,000 students—lumped Asians in with whites and measured their academic achievements against "students of color," a category that includes "Black, Latinx, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Multi-Racial Students" who have experienced "persistent opportunity gaps."

What the equity report really highlights is the absurdities that result from overreliance on semi-arbitrary race-based categories….

This reminds me of an L.A. Times op-ed I wrote back in 1998, but which I thought still merited passing along, since the underlying phenomenon continues to happen:

Asians are now white.

Don't believe me? A recent MSNBC news headline announced a "Plunge in Minority University Enrollment" at the University of California, with UC Berkeley reporting that "minority admissions had declined 61 percent." Actually, the total percentage of racial minority students at Berkeley, Asians included, fell from 57% to 49%. If you exclude the burgeoning group of people who decline to state their race, the minority percentage fell only three percentage points, from 61% to 58%.

The drop was exclusively among blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians. Asians, who make up less than 10% of the California population, apparently aren't a "minority."

Or listen to former California Chief Justice Rose Bird. Last year, she wrote a commentary saying that, without race preferences, the UC system would be "nothing more than a group of elitist, `lily white´ institutions." A coorganizer of Jesse Jackson's recent march in favor of race preferences called UC Berkeley's law school, whose entering class last year was 20% minority, including 14% Asian, "lily-white." Asians aren't just white: They are lily-white.

I first noticed this effect 10 years ago, at a party where a friend of mine commented that the guests were all white. I responded by mentioning about a dozen Asians; oh, she said, that's right, but you know what I mean. At a recent UCLA conference I attended, two speakers complained that everyone on the panel was white, without even realizing that one of the speakers was ethnically Chinese, and another was an Asian Indian with skin darker than that of many American blacks.

To some extent, this sort of mistake is funny and even a bit heartwarming. The racial divisions between white and Asian, once so stark and to many almost unbridgeable, are quickly fading away. Marriages between Asians and whites are increasingly common; while anti-Asian bigotry exists, it is (at least among whites) much rarer than it was only one or two generations ago. As with the experience of the American Irish, Italians, Jews, and many other groups, the Asian experience shows that racial divisions and hostilities can subside over time.

But there's a sinister aspect to this as well. To begin with, calling Asians "non-minorities" or even "white" is an error, and is a denial of their heritage. Asians have succeeded even though they are a racial minority -- this fact deserves to be acknowledged. It redounds to the credit of the many Asians who worked terribly hard against often overwhelming odds. And it's evidence of the essential fairness of the American capitalist system, which has rewarded this hard work even though many people, including many government officials, tried to penalize it.

Calling Asians white also creates new lines, possibly very dangerous ones. "White" has stopped meaning Caucasian, imprecise as this term has always been, and has started to mean "those racial groups that have made it." "Minority" has started to mean "those racial groups that have not yet made it." (A recent San Francisco Chronicle story even excludes non-Mexican-American Latinos from the "minority" category.) This new division is as likely as the old to create nasty, corrosive, sometimes fatal battles over which racial groups get the spoils. So long as we think in terms of "white" and "minority," we risk disaster, no matter which races are put in which box.

And, finally, calling Asians white is often a tool for misleading the public. Falsely calling a school "lily-white" gets a strong reaction from readers. Accurately saying "There are relatively few blacks and Hispanics at the school, but there are many Asians, perhaps more than there are whites" leads to a much more complex (as well as more well-informed) response. Falsely talking about plummeting "minority" admissions makes more political hay than accurately describing decreases among some racial groups and increases among others.

Ultimately, the only way to solve any of our problems, including our racial ones, is to tell the truth. We should celebrate the fact that Asians have succeeded. We should do things to make sure that all people, regardless of their race, have a chance to succeed. But in our fight for this success, we should be scrupulously honest about what's really going on.

NEXT: "We'll Be Back" performed by the federal trial and appellate judges in Houston and Galveston

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

Please to post comments

65 responses to “"School District Decides Asians Aren't Students of Color"

  1. I guess that the "District" has not noticed that some south Asians are darker than most Hispanics.
    But that is just on irony of racial politics pretending to be "social justice."

  2. Honesty would have precluded the "of color" construction long ago, so I'll be thankful for the few who refuse to play along with self-identification of race. Let others demonstrate their racism while calling themselves anti-racists.

  3. "listen to former California Chief Justice Rose Bird"
    She always was a sophist.

  4. Do you know any Asians? They don’t like being lumped in with African Americans and Hispanics.

    1. Do they like being lumped in with white people?

      1. He wouldn't know. he doesn't know any Asians. Or even any Asian-Americans. They are white, and he doesn't associate with such scum.

    2. All I know is pillow talk, folks. Unguarded words when no one is listening and they don't care how it would come off in public. Just the honest truth.

      1. There's a racist comment for you!

      2. Going to call bullshit. When someone, especially someone who supports policies like it has, states that it is 'just the honest truth,' it is most certainly a lie. And, like most woke types, it likely hasn't noticed that older Asian people don't give a rat's ass 'how it would come off in public.' The world isn't a mindless social 'justice' kindergarten camp, if parts of the US and EU are.

    3. "Do you know any Asians? They don’t like being lumped in with African Americans and Hispanics."

      They don't like being lumped in with other Asians either. So what?

    4. Do you know any people? They don't like being lumped together by skin color like they're crayons.

  5. My wife's a Filipino. I don't think she particularly cares about "lumping in".

    The whole thing is silly, I thought we were supposed to be treating people according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

    1. I prefer treating people according to the content of their wallet and even more how much of that content they are willing to hand over.

    2. We had a dear friend who was thoroughly persuaded that my Filipina wife was "white." And yet, my mestiza daughter who is on staff at a small college is supposed to embody all the opinions of "Asians" when asked about "ethnic issues" at meetings.

      Madness all.

      🙂 🙂

    3. Brett Bellmore: Lumping, no -- lumpia, yes!

      1. Absolutely yes to lumpia! Though I draw the line at balut.

    4. Isn't she a Filipina, or even better, a Filipinx?

      1. She probably doesn't have a pinx.

      2. Yeah, but I wasn't up for fighting with the spell checker last night.

    5. Sorry Brett...

      That's a "Conservative" feeling. Treating people by the content of their character. Like Mitch McConnell.

      If you were a true liberal, you would first classify people by the color of their skin, then treat them publically one way, then privately a different way.

  6. At the University of Texas, it has long been the case that African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics are in one category, while Asian-Americans and Caucasians are in the other category. The distinction between the categories can be described using various terms, but tends to focus on some previous history and effects of discrimination.
    Under Fisher, the University can take such factors into consideration, as long as it doesn't place obvious, specific weights on them. And so, since it isn't using these in any specific way, there's no need to explain why discrimination against Asians a century ago shouldn't be a consideration. But it may be, inthe case of this school district, they are making an automatic, categorical distinction, and not merely "taking it into consideration."

    1. I can't think of any category of discrimination that occurred to Hispanics that didn't also occur to Asians.

      1. Being less good at books

  7. David Bernstein has posted several times recently about the absurdity of government racial classifications.

    1. And he'll do it again!

  8. Professor Volokh, I'm curious to know if, 32 years after writing the LA Times op-ed extolling "the essential fairness of the American capitalist system", you could comment on the evidence you value most that still supports that view.

    1. I'll take a crack at that:
      2018 Per capita income by race and ethnicity:

      Asian Indian 53,298
      Japanese 50,617
      Chinese (including Taiwanese) 43,583
      Korean 41,385
      Asian 40,878
      White 36,962
      Filipino 36,183
      Pakistani 33,322
      Indonesian 32,256
      Thai 31,077
      Vietnamese 29,413
      Laotian 25,939
      Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 25,304
      Cambodian 24,921
      Bangladeshi 24,054
      Nepalese 23,419
      Black or African American 23,303
      American Indian and Alaska Native 20,709
      Hmong 19,155
      Burmese 16,603

      1. Nah, go one further.

        By Ethnic group (Partial list).

        Irish American (2016): $76,036[15]
        Ghanaian American (2016): $66,571[15]
        Turkish American (2016): $66,566[15]
        Laotian American (2018): $65,958[10]
        Thai Americans (2018): $65,357[10]
        Palestinian American (2016): $65,170[15]
        Egyptian American (2016): $64,728[15]
        Dutch American (2016): $63,597[15]
        French American (2016): $63,471[15]
        Median American Household Income (2018): $63,179[10]
        Syrian American (2016): $63,096[15]
        Nepalese American: $62,848[17]
        Albanian American (2016): $62,624[15]
        Polynesian American (2018): $61,654[10]
        Guyanese American (2016): $60,968[15]
        Nigerian American (2016): $60,732[15]
        British West Indian American (2016): $60,407[15]
        American Americans (2016): $58,601[15]
        Cuban American: $57,000[18]
        West Indian American: $56,998[15]
        Brazilian American (2016): $56,151[15]
        Barbadian American: $56,078[15]
        Argentine American (2014): $55,000[19]
        Jamaican American (2016): $52,669[15]
        Trinbagonian Americans: $55,303[15]
        Cajun American: $52,886[15]
        Moroccan American (2016): $52,436[15]
        Peruvian Americans: $52,000[15]
        Jordanian American (2016): $51,552[15]
        Pennsylvania German American (2016): $48,955[15]

  9. The "Equity Report" link above now contains an apology, but I'm not sure the apology helps.

    As the apology makes clear, what the school did was shockingly racist. They literally defined "students of color" as "students from poorly performing racial groups."

    1. They also said "we make equity-based decisions."

      'Equity' has apparently been redefined recently as equality of outcomes. Which is a terrible way to run just about anything.

  10. Harvard already made Asians white.

    1. I thought Harvard made Asians mote than white by increasing their negative scores.

      1. Nah, Harvard made Asians "lily-white"...more "white" than white people.

    2. Just because Asians have bad personalities doesn't make them white.

  11. Affirmative action makes sense, diversity is simply socially acceptable racism. Btw, the economic case for reparations in 2021 is actually stronger than the moral case. Paying reparations to descendants of American slaves would turbocharge the economy once the vaccine is being distributed.

    1. And government multipliers increase it even more.

      I wonder what multipliers do for the taxes stolen from innocent people to pay the reparations to non-victims. Throw in the typical government redistribution efficiency and you've got some excellent negative combined multiplier.

      1. Wow, Trump stole money from YOU to give to down on their luck West Virginia coal miners and Iowa farmers?? You must really HATE Don John Trump!!

    2. Actually handouts to Asians would move the economy much faster S-C

      1. No, because descendants of slaves just happens to be a group with a high % living paycheck to paycheck. So you need to get money to people that will spend it relatively wisely in 2021...and descendants of slaves ages 30-50 will be most likely to spend dollars wisely. And guess who ends up with $$$ that are spent?? Productive Americans!

        1. Totally ridiculous. People living paycheck to paycheck are not generally people who will be most likely to spend their money wisely. Regardless of whether they are 30-50 y/o descendants of slaves, or 10th generation former slave owners.

          People in this category are more likely to immediately spend any lump sum of money received, with no long term benefit, at least, to their own circumstances. Few are likely to save any of it, that's not a luxury one can afford at that income level. Most likely their will be purchases of things like TV, game systems, shoes, phones. And, less likely, major living change items like transportation or other long term investment type purchases.

          1. The multiplier in question is dollars to votes...

          2. America is a consumer spending economy—so in 2021 the only unwise way to spend money would be to hop on an international flight and spend money in Paris or St. Barts. Descendants of slaves would be the least likely group to have a passport so they would be the most likely group to spend $$$ in America.

    3. It would be even more compelling to give back the land in the Americas to the natives. All non-native people should go back to their origins.

      1. Make the economic case then...remember I’m not making the moral case for reparations.

  12. Racists gotta be racist.
    Never vote for democrats.

  13. They could have just said "sorry your victims status has been cancelled...NEXT!"

  14. The best way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

  15. I was watching the National Spelling Finals. Not a single American kid. Finally, a black kid came up. I said, finally, an American. No. Kenyan.

    Very dark skinned African immigrants outperformed whites in the 2010 Census. They are the new Koreans, top performers. Perhaps, these very dark skinned people should be classified as white. They come from intact patriarchal families. They speak the King's English. They love this country, and vote Republican. One became President. Another became Vice President. (Her people owned slaves, and were Brahmin caste supremacists. Muslims and Christians have much to fear from her.)

  16. All PC is case. We must crush the lawyer profession to save our way of life.

  17. "Latinx"

    Sounds like what I took after eating at Taco Bell.

    1. Then you got what you deserved, just deserts.

  18. Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future by John Kenneth Press

    Color is a poor label for culture.

  19. Ugh...white, American males complaining about how unfair the "system" is.

    And the funny/sad thing is, you (and admittedly the "system" like this school district), are not even focusing on the root issue which is really economic disparity.

    We shouldn't help blacks or Hispanics or whatever; we should help the people who need assistance.

    And I'm NOT talking about welfare (which I'm not a fan of); and instead am talking about better schools (and yes even more choices), better internet coverage, govt backed training opportunities (especially IT and health sectors)--in a word, Infrastructure.

    These are the tools we as a society need as we head towards the 22nd century.

    1. You're reading what you want to, again. How you think can tell what people are thinking is amazing, but not a surprising trait. IT and health are not infrastructure. The trades are, but this escapes you folks who push education the solution for all of society's woes. It seems readily apparent it is not; the people most unable to accept other viewpoints are college-educated.

    2. You are confused.

      "Ugh…white, American males complaining about how unfair the 'system' is."

      In fact, the system is unfair to some white males. There is a huge diversity of opportunity among people in this group.

      I don't understand how it became OK to stereotype white males, but it is wrong to stereotype anyone else.

      1. He's not stereotyping white males in general, just making an observation on the commentariat in this particular thread.

  20. Far and away the biggest predictor of academic success is family emphasis on scholastics, vastly outweighing dollars per pupil, class size, or anything else. Perhaps more than everything else.

    So journalists and Hollywood crap on tiger moms. I guess having familial emphasis on school work is your lucky privilege. End this freaking nation now, please.

  21. "But in our fight for this success, we should be scrupulously honest about what's really going on."

    That is a high-minded prescription from the "color-blind" side of the political aisle, readily testable in the field.

    (1) Have you ever commented, Prof. Volokh, on Prof. Heriot's prominent, practical, and public claim that she (like Todd Gaziano, another friend of the Conspiracy) 'identifies as non-Republican?' You invited her to contribute to the Conspiracy. Is she, in your judgment, 'scrupulously honest' about her identification as a "non-Republican' in the context of the well-documented activities that resulted in her appointment to the Civil Rights Commission?

    (A refresher on Heriot, from the Boston Globe: "Democrats say the move to create a conservative majority on the eight-member panel violated the spirit of a law requiring that no more than half the commission be of one party. Critics say Bush in effect installed a fifth and sixth Republican on the panel in December 2004, after two commissioners, both Republicans when appointed, reregistered as independents. . . . The administration insists that Bush's appointments were consistent with the law because the two commissioners who reregistered as independents no longer counted as Republicans. . . . In early 2007, Senate Republicans restored the 6-to-2 bloc by appointing Gail Heriot, a member of the conservative Federalist Society who opposes affirmative action. Heriot was an alternate delegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention and was a registered Republican until seven months before her appointment. In an interview, Heriot said her decision to reregister as an independent in August 2006, making her eligible to fill the vacancy, "had nothing to do with the commission. I have disagreements with the Republican Party," she said. Asked to name one, she declined.)

    The Volokh Conspiracy is strikingly White and remarkably male, yet Prof. Heriot navigated the Conspiracy's eligibility gauntlet -- was it her longstanding and continuing 'scrupulous honesty' in the context of the Civil Rights Commission that distinguished her?

    (2) Have you ever disclosed why Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland was banned from the Volokh Conspiracy -- apparently for the crime of poking fun at conservatives -- while commenters who advocate gassing liberal judges; placing liberals face-down in landfills; sending liberals to Zyklon showers; shooting liberals in the face as they open front doors; and the like continue to be welcome to comment here? Is 'scrupulous honesty' too much to ask of a 'free speech champion' in the context of obvious viewpoint-based censorship?

    (3) Have you revealed why the terms 'sl_ck-j_w' and 'c_p succ_r' have been censored by the Volokh Conspiracy -- at least when used by a non-conservative commenter -- despite the continuing appearance of vile racial slurs used by conservative commenters at this blog? Is 'scrupulous honesty' the appropriate standard in the context of another example of repeated, hypocritical, viewpoint-driven censorship at the Volokh Conspiracy?

    Thank you.

    1. "Scrupulous honesty"

      Says Artie...

      Funniest post yet.

    2. Your gotcha questions aren't gotchas, Kirkland. If you are a sock for Artie Ray, then with luck you will eventually commit a serious enough ad hominem to be banned. It seems likely, with your fixation on oral rape and constant whining about being censored while claiming others are racist. Does it not strike you that your comment about Heriot is remarkably sexist? No surprise, given the policies you support, that your racist, sexist tendencies continue to show. This aside, what difference does it make what you think of her sociopolitical stance as a non-Republican? You mistake the freedom to express your opinion with the importance of the material of the opinion -it is, as always with you, trivial complaining.

      1. Trivial complaining bothers you?

        What is the Volokh Conspiracy if not one long-playing exercise in ankle-nipping, disaffected conservatives sniping at the liberal-libertarian mainstream because they lost the culture war?

  22. Proving Twain's observation about the third kind of lies, or perhaps creating a variation of its own: diversity statistics.

  23. When I was in college the label "minority" was changed to "underrepresented minority" in school policies basically to exclude Chinese students from policies aimed to benefit "minority" students. Much better for PR than declaring them to be honorary white students.

  24. "It redounds to the credit of the many Asians who worked terribly hard against often overwhelming odds. And it's evidence of the essential fairness of the American capitalist system, which has rewarded this hard work even though many people, including many government officials, tried to penalize it."

    I am very doubtful of this rhetoric.

    I think many people of Indian and Chinese descent who have immigrated to the United States are extremely privileged in their own countries. It is not common for the poorest and most disadvantaged individuals from India or China to immigrate to the United States. If a person of such descent completes, say, a computer science Ph.D. program, that may prove they are smart. It does not prove that they "worked terribly hard against often overwhelming odds" and it certainly does not illustrate the "essential fairness of the American capitalist system" when these privileged people end up with more and better access to education in the United States than many people who were born here as a consequence of their superior socioeconomic status in their countries of origin.

    The move of Asian to the category white does nicely illustrate the absurd obsession of some on the left with race and diversity at the expense of a deeper socioeconomic analysis. Many people of Indian and Asian and African descent are privileged. Many Hispanics are privileged. Many people who are white or from the above groups are not privileged. Privilege, of course, being relative. Most people are lucky to be in the United States at all, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. But, the relative advantage that living in the United States confers has greatly declined... just look at the trend of declining life expectancy and increased incarceration in the United States.

  25. It is my understanding that under apartheid South Africa, beginning in the 1960s, categorized Japanese people, and later, certain other East Asians, as "honorary whites."