WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thursday morning, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts released a landmark decision, demanding Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill end anti-Asian racism in admissions, Yukong Mike Zhao, an immigrant from China, rushed to the steps of the Supreme Court, off First Street NE, as other Asian American immigrant parents descended on the capital to celebrate.
“Today marks a sweet but long-fought victory for the Asian community,” said Zhao, softly and passionately. All morning, WeChat and WhatsApp channels, popular with Asian Americans, had been exploding with messages in support of Students for Fair Admissions, the group that brought the lawsuits, including a simple exclamation: “!!!”
Before Zhao could get much further, a young activist cupped her hands over her mouth to shout him down, yelling: “Stop trying to be model minorities!”
Behind Zhao, we watched stunned, supporting the retiree with cheers, but that heckling was just the first salvo in an afternoon of taunting, intimidation, and slurs that activists fighting the Supreme Court decision hurled.
Hours later, I left the Supreme Court, drenched in shock and sweat, with a very important revelation from the experience: the aggression we faced is a harbinger of things to come. The Biden administration and Democratic special interest groups and activists are deeply committed to fighting the decision, and I left certain of this: they will put in place a new campaign that will be akin to the “Massive Resistance” of the 1950s when Southern Democrats refused to accept another critical U.S. Supreme Court civil rights decision, Brown v. Board of Education, also upholding the 14th Amendment and its guarantee of equality under the law, in that case ordering school boards to integrate public schools and end their racism against black students.
Later, I figured out who was behind the harassment we faced: a front group, “Defend Diversity,” whose website says it is “powered” by the NAACP National Legal Defense Fund, which had $174 million in revenue in its 2020 tax filing. The National Legal Defense Fund created the organization, referring to it on its website footer as one of its “LDF microsites,” essentially weaponizing youth to defend affirmative action. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU and other groups moved their press conference indoors to the Friends Committee on National Legislation because of the air quality.
The Harvard Crimson quoted a Harvard student, Nahla Owens, “of Defend Diversity,” explaining they didn’t want our parents to “speak for people,” saying: “Originally, this wasn’t supposed to happen because of the air quality, but we knew we just couldn’t stand aside and let SFFA speak for people who are supposed to be students applying and take that narrative.” Thus, they chased after us, most of us immigrants, with their cookie-cutter shirts, chants, and signs, which read, ironically, “We the People,” “Diversity Opportunity Justice” and “#DefendDiversity.” While we supported Students for Fair Admissions, or “SFFA,” we weren’t representing the group. We were immigrant parents and each one of us had become accidental activists, fighting anti-Asian racism. The NAACP’s National Legal Defense Fund didn’t return a request for comment.
Before we’d even gotten to our second speaker, Eva Gao, a brave mother from Maryland, police ordered us to leave our prime spot in front of the majestic building (saying there was a suspicious package in the area), and Yuyan Zhou and Xi Van Fleet, local northern Virginia parents and survivors of China’s brutal Cultural Revolution, swept dutifully across the street with our parents, carrying signs, banners, flower bouquets, and American flags.
As I walked to a third spot, our group told to move again, I thought of my journey there, the daughter of immigrants who survived British colonial rule in India, when one of the activists, Kashish Bastola, a Harvard student, eyed my shirt, which read simply, “Save Merit,” and taunted me, pitifully: “This is really embarrassing.”
“You should be ashamed, ma’am,” scolded another activist. “You’re on the wrong side of this issue.”
“You all benefit from white proximity!” the taunts continued, this time coming from Nadine Seiler, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago with her wheeled wagon covered with flags from Black Lives Matter, pride, and other causes of the day. Last year, the Washington Post profiled her as the “Black Lives Matter fence’s guardian,” curating items left on a memorial fence near the White House. Described previously as an “abortion rights demonstrator” protester, who became a fixture at the protests against conservative justices last year with her trademark wagon, this week a new Washington Post piece published a caption of a photo of her this way: “Nadine Seiler, with bullhorn, argues with anti-affirmative action demonstrators outside the court.”
For the Washington Post and those mocking us, we were reduced to “anti-affirmative action demonstrators,” without names or stories, because in this new rush to resist our exercise of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, guaranteeing all people freedom from racism and discrimination, it’s easier for our opponents to dehumanize us. In the photo, I was on the other end of Seiler’s bullhorn, but our Asian immigrant parents were reduced to nameless “demonstrators.” In a Washington Post and Harvard Crimson video, ignoring the parents and featuring the student activists, one of them, Nahla Owens, a Harvard student, declaring, “Regardless of what those people back there are saying…diversity unites us!”
We were now “those people.” Seiler had a special slur for Harry Jackson, a local black father who supports our efforts, as he stood at the street corner, dissing Justice Clarence Thomas in the process, calling Jackson “Clarence Thomas Black.” A sign on her wagon clearly communicated the erasure that happens to parents like Jackson and the Asian pro-merit moms and dads, reading: “White Proximity Groups Benefit from the Struggle of Black People.”
In a briefing Friday morning with community leaders, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pulled out a cliché from the new woke-speak, saying to “students of color” and their families, “We see you,” as he asserted the Biden administration’s gameplan to defy the Supreme Court, however it can, saying: “At the end of the day, we’re going to be on offense here. We’re going to push.”
“We cannot let this decision be the last word,” Neera Tandem, domestic policy advisor in the Biden administration, said at the briefing. She echoed Biden’s response to the ruling that an “adversity standard,” with “grit and persistence,” “personal experiences of hardship, including, uh, discrimination and even including racial discrimination,” should be included in admissions decisions.
Our parents are “grit and persistence” personified, but that doesn’t matter to the Massive Resistance 2.0. We are the inconvenient minority to the excuses Cardona and others use to cover up decades of failures by public school officials to children from Black and Hispanic communities. They throw “equity” around as a panacea for fundamental failures in simply teaching children from those communities and use Asian Americans as a scapegoat for their failures.
One of the men waving his sign in the faces of parents was a young man, wearing a t-shirt with the image of a Chinese-born American singer, Alice Longyu Gao. Ironically, he was doing media interviews as a representative of OCA, Asian Pacific American Advocates, a self-described “social justice organization,” with a mission to “empower” Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We were just the wrong kind of Asian Americans. The group’s vice president of public affairs, Kendall Kosai, had issued a statement just moments earlier on Twitter saying the Supreme Court decision was an “absolute gut punch to our county’s efforts in creating a more inclusive society for all.”
She promised they would “work with our partners in the university admissions systems” to develop “alternatives to race-conscious admissions.”
Massive Resistance 2.0.
One of our mothers, Suparna Dutta, lived in poverty when she arrived in Tennessee from India as a graduate student. She became a co-founder of an organization, Coalition for TJ, that I and other parents in Fairfax County, Virginia started in August 2020, challenging the removal of a merit test to the No. 1 high school in America, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and the arrival of a “holistic” admissions process based on “Experience Factors.” In 2022, we won a federal court decision, declaring the new “race-neutral” admissions system “patently unconstitutional,” illegal, and anti-Asian, the judge noting that a school board member admitted the new system was “anti asian [sic] LOL.” Earlier this year, we lost in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but we had to lose to win in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In August, our lawyers at Pacific Legal Foundation will file a certification with the court to have our appeal heard by the justices, and, if all goes well, the U.S. Supreme Court will accept our case, and our parents will return to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court about this time next year — for another victory for equality, civil rights and justice.
Just like we as a nation were able to defeat the Massive Resistance of the 1950s, we must do the same today on every front, from our schools and colleges to our workplaces.
By afternoon’s end, we were shuffled to a fourth spot, this time at least under the shade of trees on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol. There, our parents stood strong, with “grit and persistence,” not only in life but also that day against the bullies we unexpectedly met — a metaphor for the Massive Resistance 2.0 that the Biden administration will unleash on America.
Dutta led us in a simple chant that drowned out the agents of the new Massive Resistance, pumping her fist into the air and shouting, “USA! USA! USA!”
With the clarity and conviction of our long journeys, we responded: “USA! USA! USA!”