Is it acceptable for a public institution to discriminate against or give preferential treatment to an individual based on characteristics such as race, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation? Democrat legislators in Washington state apparently think that’s perfectly acceptable.
Last week they approved Initiative 1000, which allows Washington to implement affirmative-action policies for education and employment opportunities. What Democrats didn’t expect is that the loudest opposition to Initiative 1000 is coming from Asian Americans. The American Coalition for Equality, on behalf of Asian Americans, has launched a ballot initiative to repeal Initiative 1000 in November 2019.
In 1998, the majority of Washington voters approved Initiative 200, which “prohibited public institutions from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public education, public employment, and public contracting.” However, as the state leans more and more to the left, activists have been pushing to repeal Initiative 200.
In Washington, there are two initiative processes: Initiative to the Legislature (ITL) and Initiative to the People (ITP). Both processes start with a petition with a certain number of signatures. Once the signature requirement is met, ITP means the initiative will get put on the next ballot to let the voters decide, while ITL means state legislators will decide the fate of an initiative.
With Democrats controlling the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, the left sees now as the perfect time to repeal Initiative 200 and reinstate affirmative action. The supporters of I-1000 used the Initiative to Legislature process, and right on the cue, Democrats in the state legislature passed it on the last day of the 2019 session.
What I-1000 Would Do in Washington
I-1000, also known as the Affirmative Action and Diversity Commission Measure, adds sexual orientation, disability, and veteran status to existing state law that allows “characteristics such as race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age” to be used as factors when considering a person for education or employment opportunities. Supporters insist that I-1000 “allows affirmative action without the use of quotas” and “bans preferential treatment.”
But if you read the bill closely, you will notice its mental gymnastics. The initiative only bans preferential treatment when “using one of the characteristics listed as the sole factor for selecting a lesser-qualified candidate over another” (emphasis added). In other words, as long as these characteristics are considered along with qualifications, a preferential treatment of certain identity groups is perfectly alright under I-1000. It’s discrimination in disguise.
As a matter of fact, other provisions of the initiative indicate preferential treatment based on these characteristics are necessary to achieve “goals and timetables, and other measures designed to increase Washington’s diversity in public education, public employment, and public contracting.”
For example, I-1000 demands the creation of the Governor’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which “is responsible for ensuring compliance with the measure and is required to issue an annual report on the progress of state agencies in achieving the goals under the measure.” Ask yourself, how does a university or a government agency ensure its compliance with I-1000 and meet its “diversity” goal and timetables without resorting to a quota system or giving preferential treatment based on identity? It’s disingenuous for supporters of I-1000 to claim that this initiative somehow will create equal opportunities for all Washingtonians.
Abolishing ‘Equality for All’
In testimony to the legislature, John Carlson, who led the campaign to pass Initiative 200, which banned affirmative action in public institutions in Washington state, summarized I-1000 this way: “I-1000 will abolish ‘equality for all regardless of race’ as required by I-200, and replace it with a system using different rules for people of different races.”
Many Asian Americans agree with him. Asian Americans are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the state, making up about 8 percent of the state population. The state is the first mainland state to elect an Asian American governor, Gary Locke.
Currently, Asian Americans lean left. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama won 73 percent of the Asian American vote, exceeding his support among Hispanics (71 percent) and women (55 percent). In 2016, 79 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters supported Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. But as the Democrat Party moves to the far left and fully embraces identity politics, more and more Asians find themselves at odds with a party they have given so much support.
Asian Americans’ Success Defies Grievance Politics
Asian Americans have demonstrated that minorities can thrive in a meritocratic society despite political and economic barriers. On average, Asians have higher education attainment and higher income than any other race in the United States. Yet Asians’ economic success is not the result of preferential treatment. In fact, Asians can easily point to some dark chapters in U.S. history, from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to the Internment of Japanese Americans, as evidence that Asians suffered severe historical discrimination.
Therefore, Asians’ overall success in the United States defies the racial grievance industry’s narrative that all minorities are hopeless and powerless victims of the white majority’s oppression. The left views successful Asians as being “whitened,” and increasingly excludes Asians from diversity and inclusion efforts.
In the past, Asians didn’t mind much when they came dead last in the grievance Olympics. It’s probably the only competition in which we Asians are comfortable not getting an A. But when the left wants to use identity politics to destroy education excellence and merit, from the New York City mayor’s attempt to scrap admission tests for elite high schools to Harvard University’s limits on the number of highly qualified Asian students in its college admissions scandal, it’s a bridge too far. It touches a nerve with Asian Americans because many of us believe education is the path for our upward mobility and the realization of our American dreams.
Education Institutions Betray Their Most Successful Pupils
Public universities in Washington came out to support I-1000. They used the University of Washington as an example to show Asians are “overrepresented”: Asians represented 28.5 percent of UW student body in 2004, while being less than 6 percent of the state population in the same year.
The universities conveniently omit that, based on their proportional representation theory, white students were underrepresented during the same period. Even though 79 percent of the state population was white in 2000, whites only made up 54 percent of UW student body that year. So are these universities advocating for higher representation of white students to reflect the average population composition? Obviously not.
Saying Asian students are “overrepresented” alarmed Asian parents in Washington. Worrying that their kids may be denied their fair and equal chance for college admission for the sake of ill-defined “diversity” goals is what drives several Asian American organizations to oppose the I-1000 imitative.
In a press release, Yukong Zhao, president of Asian American Coalition for Education, strongly condemned the passage of I-1000: “For all Washingtonians, I-1000 does nothing to promote true, long-lasting diversity or to address the root cause behind failing public education in many minority communities. This politically expedient yet impractically shortsighted act only exacerbates educational inequalities across the great state of Washington!”
Kan Qiu, president of the American Coalition for Equality, believes that I-1000 is a divisive law that targets Asian Americans. His organization is spearheading a campaign called Referendum 88, which will send I-1000 to Washington voters for a final say this November. To get on the ballot, supporters of Referendum 88 have 90 days to collect 130,000 valid signatures. They are organizing a signature drive and seeking donations through “Let People Vote” PAC.
The pushback by Asian Americans in Washington state is the latest evidence that Democrats’ relentless push of identity politics has backfired and is driving key groups of their traditional coalition away. What’s going on in Washington state should serve as a wakeup call for Asian Americans. They ought to realize that their support of the Democrat Party isn’t in their best interests. Maybe it’s time to walk away and take their loyalty somewhere else.