Monday, December 12, 2011

Asians Passing for White

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

My friend Jesse Washington, recently penned an interesting article for the Associated Press on a fairly recent trend of Asian students trying to "hide" their Asian heritage when applying to college. Although most colleges would deny it, there seems to be a higher threshold Asian applicants have to meet in regards to their grade point average and SAT scores. Since Asian students in general out perform Whites, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans on tests and in grades, in order for colleges not to have a disproportionate number of Asians in their classes, they make it harder for them to get in. Or at least that seems to be the case. Most schools don't want to go on the record saying this is true. But students, parents and high school guidance counselors seem to think it is and thus this new trend.

So, how does one hide the fact that they are Asian? Well, a person can not check the "race box" on the application, but an Asian surname pretty much ruins that trick. So, who is really playing the race game here? It's the kids who only have one Asian parent. The Asian mixies. The Hapas, if you will. The ones who can "pass for White," as did the handful of kids interviewed in the story.

On the one hand, I feel for any kid who is discriminated against because of his ethnic background. Especially if that discrimination comes from ├╝ber achievement! How does that feel? 'Uh, We're sorry but you and your people are just too smart. We don't want you here at our institution of higher learning.' (sigh)

But on the other hand, the meltingpot in me chafes at the idea that these kids are passing for White. And my discomfort with it has nothing to do with college admissions. Any time a person feels the need to cover up/hide/deny the colored part of their heritage in order to get ahead, is a tragedy. I don't have any solutions to offer these kids in this horrible predicament, but I know for a fact that lying about who you are can never lead to good things.

So Meltingpot readers, what do you think Asian kids should do when facing discrimination in the admissions process? What do you think our colleges and universities should do to address the problem? And, should a kid with only one Asian parent, be placed in the same category of Asian as the kid with two? Isn't this tricky?

I'm totally listening.



Anonymous said...

I wonder how race-blind admissions work. I work at a university and I know for sure we aren't race-blind but to my knowledge, they heavily recruit all minorities.

It would be interesting to see a race-blind admissions process but then race-tracking after admission to see the demographics. That has its own host of issues though.

soy yo said...

If these kids are truly half "white," and truly have a non-Asian surname, and don't check the race box, or even if they are 100% Asian and adopted with a non Asian surname, is it really passing as white? Just not checking the race box? I might not check the race box, and sometimes I don't mainly depending on mood. Am I passing as something else? People have thought my name to belong to various ethnic groups.

On the other hand that this is used as an advantage over people with Asian surnames may seem a bit unfair, but if all they are doing is not checking the race box, then that is their right.

Once they are accepted to a school it seems that the "passing" would be over.

Yes, it is terrible that people feel a need to do this. Universities should devise some kind of anonymous (anonymous until decisions are made based on relevant criteria) application system.

LT said...

I agree, I'd love to see how the process works.

You make some really good points. And I guess I only called it 'passing' because the students interviewed seemed to be making a conscious decision to NOT claim their Asian heritage. I do believe it would be a different story if they had always claimed to be White and or even Mixed. Hmmm

Amy said...

I'm Asian American (ethnic Chinese born in the US) and I don't feel I'm in a position to judge kids for checking or not checking the box. I personally never thought of leaving it blank (my last name gives it away anyway), but if some kids strategically do so and feel ok w/ it I say go for it. Yes it's sad that one has to hide a part of one's identity, but it's also a practical response to a racist system. I remember in high school feeling a deep sense of helplessness about being grouped together and overlooked as just another one of a monolothic group of Asians in the college admissions process. This Asian American children's author says the same thing was going on even in the 1980s:

CandCFamily said...

I think them not checking the box is really trying to "pass" to get ahead. I know it may be stacked against them to get into Harvard, but really don't we want diversity, not just an entire college of one race?

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Anonymous said...

I'm a half white half asian American. My asian mom was adopted by white people. My dad is white. I don't identify with my asian background anymore than I identify with my obscure Swedish roots. My cousins are also half asian from my aunt who grew up in Japan. They consider themselves Asian because they identify with it. I've always checked white until I learned I didn't need to check it at all. I don't think it's just a matter of passing as white or not and concealing heritage. I think it's a matter of self identity. The greater tragedy is those who get surgery to fit one ideal beauty.