The case is, on the surface, about discrimination against Asians. But it is one of several recent legal actions that, on a deeper level, call into question the status of a certain subset of Asian Americans by aligning them with white people. (A Harvard spokeswoman said the study released by Students for Fair Admissions had been conducted with limited admissions data, and its results were preliminary and incomplete; a separate analysis that Harvard commissioned found no evidence of discrimination. Regarding the lawsuit, another school spokeswoman said Harvard does not discriminate in admissions and will fight to continue to pursue a diverse student body.)
Early this year, the white male engineer James Damore sued his former employer Google for discrimination on the basis of his race and gender, alleging the company institutes illegal hiring quotas, the results of which, according to his lawsuit, was that “Caucasian and Asian males were not being selected for jobs and promotions due solely to their status as non-females or non-favored minorities.”
In another lawsuit filed in January of this year, a former YouTube employee, Arne Wilburg, who is a white man, also sued YouTube’s parent company, Google, alleging that its hiring practices systematically discriminated against not only against white men, but against Asian men as well. Google will “vigorously defend” itself, a spokeswoman said, adding, “We have a clear policy to hire candidates based on their merit, not their identity. At the same time, we unapologetically try to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open roles, as this helps us hire the best people, improve our culture, and build better products.”
Notably, the man who spearheads the organization suing Harvard, Edward Blum, has sued schools before on similar grounds—but in those cases, it was on behalf of white, not Asian, students. In 2008 he helped represent Abigail Fisher, who sued the University of Texas at Austin for allegedly using her white race against her in its admissions process. On the same day Blum’s group sued Harvard in 2014, it also filed a discriminatory admissions lawsuit in a North Carolina district court against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, once again on behalf of white students.
The Harvard and Google cases combine Asians with whites in a seemingly unified cry of so-called reverse discrimination—even though, at 6 percent of the population in 2017, Asians are statistical minorities, and at nearly 61 percent, whites are not.* These legal actions seem to be about race-blind equal opportunity. But in reality, they are making a case that, in the elite echelons of society, Asians are, like white people, a privileged class that is being brought down as other racial groups rise.
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