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Dana Takagi, The Retreat From Race  

From Subject
Kaiulani Lie kalie@ilstu.edu Review of The Retreat From Race (Lie)

 

From: Kaiulani Lie kalie@ilstu.edu
Subject: Review of The Retreat From Race (Lie) 

Dana Takagi, The Retreat From Race By Kaiulani Lie kalie@ilstu.edu Illinois State University

The treatment of minorities in American society seems to be a reoccurring issue in our society today. Everybody knows that minorities were mistreated in the past, but what about how they are looked at and treated today? Do minorities still need special treatment because of their status? How far should any special treatment to them go? These are crucial questions that need to be addressed. One aspect of this issue is talked about by Dana Takagi in her book, "The Retreat From Race: Asian American Admissions and Racial Politics. Takagi, in particular, discusses the use of affirmative action in the admissions process at elite American universities. She looks at the various attitudes about the use of affirmative action to help underprivileged minorities and how these attitudes have changed during the late 80s and 90s due to claims that prestigious universities were using admissions policies that limited the number of Asians they admitted to their school.

As with any group, Asians in the United States were/are stereotyped. Ever since Asians have come to this country, whites have considered them the 'model minority'. Whites saw them as being hard-working, excelling at school (especially math and science), and being more integrated than the other minorities that existin this country. In the 70s and 80s the number of Asian applicants to the top universities increased, but in the mid 1980s the number of Asians admitted to these schools remained around the same or decreased. This numbers game led to the  discrimination claims on the part of Asian American groups and investigation into the admissions policies of universities. The Asian cause was picked up a few years later by neoconservatives who used it as an opportunity to change their cause into a debate over the use of Affirmative action.

The school that was most in the spotlight during this time was the University of California at Berkeley. The controversy at Berkeley began when the admissions records for 1984 were examined by an Asian task force. After looking at the ethnicity of the people that applied and those that were accepted, Asian admission rates seemed puzzling. Looking at the number of Asians that applied and the number of Asians admitted that year, the number admitted was about the same even though there had been an increasingly growing number of Asians that applied to the school. The administration at Berkeley emphatically denied charges by the task force that they discriminated against Asians. The tensions mounted between the administration and the task force, and eventually led to investigations by the state of California and the federal government. Other universities where Asian admissions also became an issue were: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

All this controversy that continued to occur in the late 80s/early 1990s over Asian admissions was a perfect chance for the neoconservatives to step in. The neoconservatives believe that affirmative action should be abolished, and that admissions should be granted based on merit not the race of a person, the activities a person is involved in, or their athletic ability. Proponents of this viewpoint felt that granting admissions by using race creates quotas in the mind of the admissions officers, because they (at least unconsciously) have in their mind estimates of how many members of an ethnic group they want to let in and this iswrong. It causes people to be excluded because of the race and not their academic performances.

The only reason neoconservatives could step in to this debate was because it was the Asians who were being discriminated against. Asians are the minority group that do the best overall academically. If the admissions policies at elite universities limit the number of Asians admitted, this allows neoconservative to voice their opinions. Asians can compete academically with the best of them. However, this hurts Blacks and Hispanics who have consistently not done as well as Whites and Asians when it comes to academics. Neoconservatives have not adequately addressed the issue of how a mericratic system would effect Blacks and Hispanics. They frequently say that if Blacks and Hispanics can not get in a university based on their academic performance, than they are not qualified to get in. But, just because a person is not as good academically as someone else does not mean that they can not handle the work that they will encounter at a particular university or that they can not get good grades at a particular university; It simply means that the other person is better than they are at school. This is a fact that neoconservatives tend to ignore. Nevertheless, they managed to turn the debate from discrimination against Asians to affirmative action.

After the results of the various investigations came in, certain universities felt obligated to change their admissions policies because of the effect of neoconservative involvement. This was due to the fact that neoconservatives changed some of the investigations from focusing on whether or not an university was discriminating against racial groups to how affirmative action effected the admissions of different racial groups. For example, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles both altered their admissions policies in fear that they would lose affirmative action all together. Prior to these events, the admissions policies at these two universities used to include race-based affirmative action but it was changed to class-based affirmative action in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Actions like these were done as a compromise.

They were done to appease the growing self-centeredness and conservative attitudes in the United States.

She criticizes the change from race-based to class-based affirmative action because race alone plays a key factor in how a person performs in school- as studies have pointed out. She feels that both forms of affirmative actions should be used. This movement away from race-based affirmative action is what Takagi characterizes as a "retreat from race". When we address issues it is not based on race, but on other criterion. Our ignorance of race is what she feels is causing the racial tension we are seeing today.

While I feel that she makes a valid point, I feel that the change in the base of affirmative action was necessary. I adhere to the same logic as the admissions departments at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles, ensuring that some form of affirmative action exists is better than losing it all. Based on the attitudes of society around the time of these events, I do not think that universities could have gotten around the neoconservative push to end affirmative action.

First, if there is a trend in society it will be very...hard to resist that trend. A small group will have a hard time to resist the will of many. So, it only makes sense that that small group should try to salvage what they can- i.e. turn to a class-base (less controversial) form of affirmative action. Second, affirmative action itself will always be objectionable to someone so the less controversy it is subjected to the better intact it will remain. The reason why I feel it will remain controversial is because it chooses between different people. It gives advantages to the disadvantaged which is a good thing, but because of the ethnic make-up of most of the people considered 'disadvantaged' will be Hispanic or Black. Thus, possibly lessening the number of Asians and Whites accepted. Universities can not let everyone in, therefore some one will get the raw end of the deal. Because of this fact, some will object to the use of affirmative action.

It is a practice where people in authority positions have to choose the lesser of two evils, going by merit and not admitting a white student over a minority student because they are the best academically or choosing the minority because they show promise and they are disadvantaged. It's a tough decision.

These types of decisions are not just faced by university admissions departments, but they are present in many aspects of society. I'm sure that businesses that have affirmative action plans are facing the same difficult decisions. Looking at credentials in resumes is hard enough because you have to decide how much weight you are going to give certain factors. Throwing race or other subjective criteria in just makes it harder. Regardless of the difficulties that arise from using this system, affirmative action is a necessary practice. It equalizes the chances given to everyone.

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