Linsanity and affirmative action are two things we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, and two things that are actually fairly related.
Both involve Asian-Americans, and more specifically, discrimination against them. New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin is Asian, and so is a student who recently filed a (now withdrawn) complaint against Harvard and Princeton with the U.S. Department of Education claiming he was rejected during the admissions process because of his race. The Supreme Court’s decision last week to hear the case Fisher v. University of Texas has also helped race-conscious affirmative action seize the spotlight.
It turns out, the Jeremy Lin saga is actually a really good case against affirmative action.
Once again (or was it ever not?) national discourse is all about race. The tweet below by boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather in particular has drawn attention, and it also speaks to the similarities between Linsanity and affirmative action.
Mayweather clearly has no problem chalking up Lin’s stardom, not to his improbable rise and hard work, but to his race while also suggesting that black players don’t get the same attention because of their race. In other words, he undermines the talent and hard work of the Asian while suggesting black people are really the ones held back in some sense by their race, just like affirmative action does.
ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon, among others, didn’t hesitate to call Mayweather a “bigot,” citing his previous statement that Filipino rival Manny Pacquiao should “make some sushi rolls and cook some rice.”
Linsanity, in its few weeks of existence, has revealed not only that some NBA teams are terrible at scouting talent, but also that racism directed at Asians is real and important. ESPN recently fired a writer for publishing the headline “Chink In The Armor” online after a Knicks loss and suspended a TV anchor for using the same phrase. Mayweather’s comment, then, was only one of many racially charged remarks that drew swift and high profile condemnation.
So, the question is, if we’re so sensitive to discrimination against Jeremy Lin, why don’t we care about the Asian student who recently brought the complaint against Harvard?
That student’s claim that he was discriminated against because of his race has merit, regardless of what Harvard or its spokesmen say. Analyzing college admissions data from 1997, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade found that Asian-Americans, all other quantifiable factors being equal, needed far higher SAT scores than students of other races to gain admission to top schools. His empirical evidence that discrimination against Asians in the race-conscious college admissions process is widespread is hardly necessary—the unfairness is obvious.
In truth, if we don’t care about both Jeremy Lin and this mystery student, we’re hypocrites. Mayweather’s tweet and affirmative action have a lot in common with regard to how they treat Asian-Americans and African-Americans, but affirmative action is actually far worse. Lin hears racially insensitive remarks by ESPN staffers and gets questioned by Floyd Mayweather; the student filing the complaint actually might have been rejected from the school he wanted to attend because of his race. If he was a different color, he very well might have gotten in. Yet many people are outraged by the tweet and ESPN headline but supportive of affirmative action. I don’t think you can reasonably be both.
When the Supreme Court considers affirmative action cases, like Fisher v. University of Texas, in the future, it should bear in mind that discrimination against Asians in society is real and significant, and verbal discrimination against them is no worse than discrimination in admissions. Granted, the existence of this discrimination in admissions doesn’t totally undermine the case for affirmative action, but it is under-considered. President Obama is watching Linsanity, and the Supreme Court should be too.
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