Last week’s horrific murder of eight people in Atlanta seemed like a perfect fit with the ongoing progressive narrative that hate crimes against Asian Americans are skyrocketing, part of the larger narrative that ours is a systemically racist country with white supremacists preying upon non-white minorities.
The Atlanta shooter was a white man, and six of his eight victims were Asian Americans. Therefore, case closed: it had to be a hate crime. What else could it be?
Except that it probably was not a hate crime. That assumption might have been reasonable, had we not known more about what happened. But we did know more, within hours. As reported by police, the shooter’s motive evidently was revenge, not racism. He was targeting sex workers at places he’d frequented because he believed them to be responsible for his addiction. Two of his victims were not Asian.
Nevertheless, print and broadcast media jumped instantly on the hate-crime narrative. President Biden and Vice President Harris descended on Atlanta and made impassioned speeches. Flags nationwide flew at half-mast. Protests erupted. The Asian-American community is understandably terrorized.
At best, the rush to judgment is premature; at worst, it is deliberately deceptive – and harmful. Assertions of horrific crimes inflame public passions, and wrong diagnosis inevitably leads to wrong corrective action. Look no further than the months of rioting in American cities triggered by racial concerns and leading to counter-productive actions such as defunding police.
Regardless of what we learn about the Atlanta shootings, it is not at all clear that anti-Asian violence is on the rise. Recent episodes of hateful behavior against Asian Americans have been widely reported, and no doubt they are real; but whether they are increasing in frequency or simply are garnering more media attention (consistent with prevailing narrative) remains to be seen.
It is possible that some reported episodes of anti-Asian violence have been prompted by the pain and stress of a pandemic known to have originated in China. Or a more likely explanation may be that our increasing obsession with race and ethnicity – identity politics – opens the door to class envy over Asian Americans’ visible success in so many areas.
In any case, we must deal with it. But transparently hyping the Atlanta shootings as an anti-Asian hate crime will do nothing to increase public awareness and concern about the problem.
And for those genuinely concerned about anti-Asian bias, there’s another, very different brand of discrimination now taking hold.
In our frantic quest for diversity and equity in American education, premier academic institutions are replacing merit-based admission criteria with “holistic” and flexible ones. These changes will make more room for lower-performing white, Black and Hispanic applicants, at the direct expense of academically superior Asian ones.
The underlying rationale is understandable. Roughly 2% of University of California System and Ivy League college students are Black, compared to Blacks’ 13% proportion of the U.S. population. Asian-Americans on the other hand, representing only about 7% of the U.S. population, comprise over 20% of Harvard’s student body and fully one-third of the UC Berkeley student body. But the course of action chosen to address those glaring disparities – changing admission requirements in a way that will severely restrict Asian American opportunity – is classic reverse discrimination.
That practice is now spilling over to magnet high schools such as Lowell High School in San Francisco and the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria VA. Both are academic powerhouses, springboards to premier colleges and successful careers. Asian-Americans comprise over 50% and 70% of their respective student bodies. Starting next year, both schools will change their admission practices from rigorous competitive exams to selection by lottery.
One of the Lowell board members cited “pervasive systemic racism” as the underlying reason for the policy change. I’d argue that it’s superior work ethic on the part of the Asian Americans. Discrimination comes in many forms and works in both directions.
This is where the new progressive buzzword “equity” (i.e., outcomes which match racial population proportions) goes head-to-head with America’s time-honored principle of “equality” (equal opportunity to succeed). They are not the same.
Clearly, the problem in this case is that our American education system and established culture is not producing competitive students from Hispanic, Black and white communities. Artificially stacking the deck to produce proportional (albeit academically inferior) graduates is hardly a fix.
The social justice issues facing America are too important to be reduced to simplistic, politically expedient narratives. We cannot fix problems without facing them honestly.