“They claim to be attacking white supremacy, but really, they’re attacking meritocracy,” says Kenny Xu, author of “An Inconvenient Minority: The Attack on Asian American Excellence and the Fight for Meritocracy.”
Asian Americans are penalized for working hard and held to much higher standards than their non-Asian peers in the admission processes for America’s elite universities, Xu argues.
Now, the push for “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is expanding beyond universities to virtually every aspect of American life. Schools are abolishing programs for gifted and talented students and lowering standards to get failing students to pass. And there are growing attacks on race-blind admissions systems.
“For the sake of equity, we are dumbing down the best and brightest of our next generation,” he says.
Jan Jekielek: Kenny Xu, it’s such pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Kenny Xu: Thank you so much, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Kenny, I’ve really enjoyed reading your new book “An Inconvenient Minority.” When I read it, I can’t help but see this picture of a much broader attack on all aspects of meritocracy in America. It’s quite incredible the way you catalog it.
Mr. Xu: There is this attack on excellence right now in our culture, if you dare to be a group that achieves, if you dare to be a group that studies hard, and that performs. Asian Americans study twice as many hours as the average American in the United States. There will be, unfortunately, political consequences for you, such as in the Ivy Leagues where they don’t want too many Asians in the Ivy Leagues. Harvard even says that if they didn’t discriminate against Asian-Americans, Asian-Americans would make up about 43 per cent of the Ivy Leagues. Instead they make up about 20 per cent.
So when you become a group that really achieves, you inspire resentment. Asian-Americans really are the canary in the coal mine here. If Harvard’s philosophy of discriminating against certain races was allowed to propagate into our country, then what’s going to happen is that there will be discrimination across the board, and this is what you’re seeing now.
You’re seeing diversity and inclusion saying, “We need more people of a certain race in corporate board positions,” or “We need more people of a certain race in government positions.”
You see this larger attack in our country and if it’s allowed to spread, Asian-Americans are going to be the first minority to go to, whose excellence is going to be penalized across the board.
So I felt that I had to write this book “An Inconvenient Minority” to show the damages and the longer term consequences of attacking excellence in our country. Because this larger principle of meritocracy applies to everybody—this idea that you should be treated based on the content of your character, not the color of your skin.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s quite interesting. Around the same time as you’re publishing this book, you’ve also become deeply involved in a new group that you’re the president of, Color Us United.
Mr. Xu: Yes, Color Us United. What we seek to do is advocate for a race-blind America. That is an America where no matter what your race is, you can be treated on the basis of your own individual merits, not on the basis of the color of your skin. We have so much racial division in our country, but where does it come from? Because only 29 per cent of Americans even think that their race is important to them at all.
People certainly do not want to be treated by something that they cannot control about themselves. “I was born in this skin that I can’t change. I can’t control this aspect about myself.” It’s the same thing with you, Jan. It’s the same thing with everybody in this country. Why should we let that be a factor that controls us? Why should we let that divide us? At Color Us United, colorusunited.org, we are trying to promote that principle of colorblindness to the rest of society.
Mr. Jekielek: You dedicate a whole chapter in your book to talking about the realities at Harvard. You mentioned that there is this active discrimination. I want you to talk about that and where things stand with that, because of course it’s being contested. But a lot of these ideas actually originally come from Harvard as well.
Mr. Xu: We have this racial ideology at Harvard University today that stems not only from the white progressive racial guilt that infects Harvard’s University system, but it also stems from Harvard’s uniquely elite managerial mindset. Derrick Bell was the founder of critical legal studies. He was a Harvard professor, a Harvard law alumni and his work became the progenitor of Critical Race Theory.
While Harvard was developing Critical Race Theory, Harvard Business School over on the other end was at the zeitgeist of managerialism. Managerialism teaches that it is easier to manage groups than it is to manage individuals. “How do you get people to buy your stuff? How do you get people to vote for the politician that you want?” You subdivide people into groups and you treat people as blocks and you convince those people that they become part of a group. That is the essence of managerialism.
Critical Race Theory is really this marriage of racial division and managerialism because it subdivides people into groups. Then it tells people, based on your group status, what you must do. You must act privileged or you must act oppressed.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned elite white guilt and you mentioned it as if it was something that everybody understands. There’s a lot of people that might not understand, and frankly, I’m not even sure I fully understand.
Mr. Xu: White progressives are the least likely race, or are the least likely group of people to hold a positive assessment of their own race. Every other race in America has a more positive assessment of their own race than they do. Blacks have more positive assessments, much more positive assessments of blacks than they do of other races. So do Asians, although to a lesser extent.
But white progressives are the only group that has a lower assessment of their own race than of other races. There is this idea infused within progressivism of white guilt—this idea that you are infused with a kind of white privilege and you need to give it away. So you have these elite white progressives at Harvard who are privileged. By any measure, Harvard is a very privileged place to go to. It has a $40 billion endowment. You have these progressives at Harvard who feel guilty about that.
How do they solve feeling guilty about their own privilege? They do it through the admission system. They say, “What is going to make me feel like I’m doing a good thing in society?” They look at people of other races and they say, “We need to admit more marginalized peoples.” And to them, that means black people, and to them, it means Hispanic people. So they manipulate the admission system to admit more black and Hispanic people who are actually less qualified than the people that they would have to reject in order to get that racial balancing.
Mr. Jekielek: What you’ve found or what the data actually show is that the Asian Americans are disproportionately discriminated against here.
Mr. Xu: What happens is if you want to admit a lower qualified person of a certain race? You have to cut somebody out. Who are the people that are cut out? They happen to be Asian Americans. There are too many Asian-Americans at the school, as perceived by the progressive elite. So what happens is that Asian Americans have to score 440 points higher to have the same chance of admission as a black student.
An Asian American in the top academic decile of academic achievement has a lower chance of admission than a black American at the fourth lowest academic decile and to even a white American in the eighth lowest academic decile. So in order to help one minority, so to speak, you have to exclude another minority. This is why Asian Americans are the inconvenient minority.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re often told that it’s the whites that are the oppressors. So we might expect that would be the group that would be the most discriminated against in this model. But you’re saying that’s not what’s happening?
Mr. Xu: In Harvard’s model, Asians are the most discriminated against. What this represents is not only the elevation of black Americans as the most marginalized group, but it is this larger racial hierarchy of oppression that critical race theorists are proposing—black people are the most oppressed, followed by Latino people and then I would argue followed by white people and then even Asian people at the bottom.
Because Asian people right now are the racial group in America that has the highest household income, and highest academic achievement. If you want to make a policy based on equity, you have to delete Asian Americans first in order to get to the ratios that you want. So what happens is, they claim to be attacking white supremacy, but they’re really attacking meritocracy, and they’re really attacking colorblindness.
Asian Americans disproportionately believe in meritocracy. They oftne come here poor, and often without wealth or social connections or privilege. They come here with a simple belief that if you work hard in this country, you can achieve and you can be successful—and they have been successful because of that belief. But now that belief is under attack and it’s being called systemically racist.
Mr. Jekielek: Fundamentally, you view this as an attack on meritocracy. Is that the genesis of this or how did all of these initiatives come about?
Mr. Xu: It came about from a genuine desire, I would say. If you look at the American population, it is stratified in many senses, at least in our current state of things. You do have lower household incomes and lower household wealth for black Americans than you do for white Americans. You have higher prosecution rates, higher crime rates.
For 50 years, we tried to solve this problem. As Americans, we have tried to solve this problem. We’ve done “The Great Society,” we’ve done welfare, we’ve done affirmative action, we’ve done a lot of things. But for one reason or another, those interventions have not been enough. So people on the Left are getting frustrated because they thought that this idea of The Great Society was going to work.
It didn’t work. They wanted to be more aggressive about making sure that the racial climate in America accurately reflects what they want their vision for America. This is where they start coming up with equity. Equity says, “We need to have certain ratios of black Americans to white Americans, and black Americans to Latino Americans to white Americans in these elite positions, whether at Harvard, whether in government, or whether in corporations.
So they launched this equity initiative and that’s how we’re getting to this point right now, where you have things so racialized, and everything thought of in the idea that we need equal racial outcomes over equal opportunity.
Mr. Jekielek: Equity, isn’t equality, it’s not the same thing, but it’s often confused together. Explain the difference.
Mr. Xu: Equity is the idea that all that we need to treat people differently in order to arrive at the same level of representation, in order to arrive at a desired representation. So equality says, we’re just going to treat you on the basis of your merits. We’re going to give you equal opportunity. We’re gonna give you an opportunity to succeed, but if there is a racial discrepancy in the final outcome of a population, then that is okay.
For example, in the NBA, we have an equal playing field, but some people are just going to be better at dribbling and some people are going to be better at shooting and they’re going to rise to the top. It just so happens that 75 per cent of the people who rise to the top in the NBA are black. That is not an unjust outcome, that is a fair outcome.
But equity would say that that’s unfair, because we need to ensure equal outcomes and treat people differently under an equity regime. No one would really say this, but there would be people who would say, “Well, we need more white people,” or “We need more Asian people in the NBA,” because Asian people are underrepresented in the NBA. They only make up less than 1 per cent of the NBA. We need to find a way to make Asians 6 per cent of the NBA population. We need to find a way to make white people 60 per cent of the NBA population, because they are 60 per cent of the country.
That’s really what equity is. And so they would apply principles and policies of racial preferences in the NBA system to get people, to force people of certain races into the NBA.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you bring out for me some of the broader ramifications of this assault on meritocracy that we’re seeing, that you document?
Mr. Xu: If we aren’t able to nurture homegrown talent in America to be able to compete at the highest level on the world stage, America will quickly find itself as a country supplanted by the likes of China, by the likes of India, and by the likes of countries that have no qualms about race and those kinds of things and are able to train their technocratic elite in such a way. Right now, we have a tech competition with China. We need the best engineers right here in our home.
But now if we’re discriminating against the best qualified people to go to the best resourced universities and get hired into the best companies, then we are eliminating the training ground for our best and brightest to really succeed and have opportunity in this country. I would just ask you, the ordinary American, “When you go and get surgery for your knee cap or you get surgery for your heart, do you want a surgeon of a certain race or do you want the best qualified surgeon?
What happens at these medical schools is that they are eliminating meritocracy in favor of racial identity politics. And so you have an Asian American who is a tenth as likely, even with higher MCAT and GPAs, they’re a tenth as likely to get into these prominent medical schools as you do if you were black or African-American, or even less likely than if you’re a white. When you penalize achievement, you’re going to eventually sacrifice the quality of care, the quality of your surgery, and the quality of other areas in the country as well.
Mr. Jekielek: You dedicate a chapter in your book to the New York public school system, specifically these specialized schools where admission is based purely on an entrance exam, or at least that’s how it’s been in the past. There’s one example which I thought was really fascinating. One of the schools in Brooklyn in the ’80s had something like 55 per cent black and Hispanic students. But since that time, that’s declined down to something like 4 per cent today. What actually prompted this change?
Mr. Xu: In the ’60s and the ’70s, New York City had always been a highly black and Hispanic city. You had a large portion of the city, black Americans who were high achieving from elementary school, onto middle school level and then through the high school level. But something in between the ’80s and the ’90s and the 2000s prompted this drastic slide of black and Hispanic representation at these high schools.
What happened was in the late ’80s, early ’90s, there was this movement against gifted and talented programs. Progressive educators thought that gifted and talented programs in New York City would privilege certain students, the wealthy and the powerful, so they sought to get rid of gifted and talented programs in New York City. And as a result, the number of gifted and talented middle schools and the number of programs of gifted and talented achievement in the middle schools went down drastically. Over half of them were cut in the ’90s and 2000s and as a result, the pipeline of gifted black and Hispanic achievement in New York city went down.
Also in New York city, you had this rise in this epidemic of great inflation in New York city public schools, where a lot of these teachers and a lot of these professors would seek to pass students, even though all standardized metrics would suggest they wouldn’t pass. So at one middle school that I covered in my book, you had 85 per cent, 90 per cent pass rates at these middle schools with 12 to 30 per cent pass rates on the corresponding math exam.
The result of all of these failed policies was that black and Hispanic achievement in this public school system in this New York city system started to become superseded by Asian achievement in this system.
Mr. Jekielek: Why the disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic students?
Mr. Xu: Because the public school system in New York City that the city had grown, that so many black and Hispanic residents had come to rely on, failed them. It failed them because of this grade inflation, and because of the death of gifted and talented programs in New York City. It wasn’t the money. The money per pupil per student kept increasing. It was poor discipline, poor teaching and all of these other factors that combined.
All the while, you had Asian immigrants move into the city and they were poor too. In fact, Asians have the highest poverty rate in New York city. Out of all of the racial groups, that’s something people don’t generally know. Yet, they were able to continue their achievement throughout the years because they were less reliant upon the public school system to address all of their educational needs.
Their parents would spend what limited savings they would have to send their kids to extracurricular programs and to do the requisite work to be able to become proficient in advanced studies. So as a result, you had Asians who were studying over the weekends and after school to be able to achieve, and eventually they did.
Mr. Jekielek: We have this situation where the policies that are intended to help are actually hurting the people they are intending to help.
Mr. Xu: When the New York city government decided to implement this death of gifted and talented programs in New York city, what happened was that there were a lot of smart black kids in New York City, a lot of smart black and Hispanic kids of high intelligence. I was able to interview several of them. But you can’t just be smart. You also have to have the opportunity to be able to achieve at the level in which you can be sufficiently challenged.
So what happened was you had these smart black Americans who were not able to be put into a program at the elementary and middle school level that challenged them. They were at the top of their class, but they were not being taught a challenging curriculum. They were being forced back down into the middle of the student body.
Oftentimes the culture at some of these underperforming schools is that academic achievement is resented and you’re seen as acting white. You’re seen as being an Uncle Tom. I saw this from my own friends who are black, who are African-American, who have told me that because they dared to academically achieve, they were treated with homosexual slurs. They were called Uncle Toms, and everything like that.
If you are not able to build a culture where people are challenged at the level where they’re challenged, you waste that intellect. You waste the intelligence of those people. So for the sake of equity, we are dumbing down the best and brightest of our next generation. That’s why you see this huge slide in black and Hispanic representation at these gifted and talented high schools in New York city.
Mr. Jekielek: How is it possible that Asian Americans are now being connected with this concept of white supremacy?
Mr. Xu: It starts from Asian Americans being the inconvenient minority. Because the Left does not have an explanation for Asian American achievement from a critical race theory lens. You know, if this country was founded upon white supremacy, how come these Asian-Americans are able to take advantage and even leap over white Americans and things like household income and things like standardized test scores and college attendance?
Asian Americans have higher two-parent family structures. They have lower rates of crime. They have lower rates of drug use. If you adopt the principles of American excellence in this country, you can achieve and it’s not based on your race. But the Left does not want to acknowledge this because it puts too much of an onus of responsibility upon the other minorities that are supposedly lagging.
So they claim that, “No, this is not what drives Asian achievement in the United States. It’s not based on hard work. It’s about proximity to whiteness.” That’s what they say, it’s about proximity to whiteness. It’s about the fact that Asian Americans are “white adjacent,” a term that they use. This is how you get to the point where Asian Americans are being described as part of this white supremacy structure.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating, but really you’re talking about is a lack of an interest in personal responsibility.
Mr. Xu: The Left does not want to talk about personal responsibility anymore. They like to think of things in terms of big structural systemic problems, but every problem starts with an individual problem. Asian Americans did face discrimination in this country. They faced a lot of racism and they still face racism today. Yet they were able to overcome that, but not through political organizing and demanding affirmative action handouts.
In fact, as we’ve already discussed, they are subject to the penalization that comes from affirmative action handouts. But they were able to continue to succeed in this country because they’re able to set their minds on personal responsibility and focus and drive. They do have a lesson for the rest of the country that you cannot just rely on, you know, systemic racism narratives to explain everything that is going on about achievement in our country.
Mr. Jekielek: But, there certainly has been some political organizing. In fact, you’ve been involved in some of it in California, around Proposition 16.
Mr. Xu: Yes. I fear that if Asian Americans do not politically organize right now, this country will turn against the principles of meritocracy that have engendered Asian American achievement in this country or achievement for all races, which really, is meritocracy. Asian Americans do need to step up and become more politically organized, not for themselves, but for this country’s founding values, where you want to be treated on the basis of the content of your character, not the color of your skin. That is a central American principle. And that is the Martin Luther King principle of race blindness— a race blind meritocracy where you can achieve no matter what color your skin is.
Mr. Jekielek: I was reading with fascination this part of your book where you talk about how this whole issue around Proposition 16 played out.
Mr. Xu: This is an amazing David and Goliath story. So in California, in 2020, there was a group of activists who sought to reinstitute racial preferences in admissions, in hiring, and in public contracting. They called it Proposition 16. They were going to weaponize Proposition 16 to give unearned preferences to black Americans and Hispanic Americans at the expense of white Americans and Asian Americans. Basically it was going to enable the government to give preferences on the basis of race again.
These ordinary Asian Americans who came to this country and worked really hard to get what they got, said, “Okay, we cannot support this.” So they began to organize and they raised about $2 million for the No on Proposition 16 campaign. I happened to be a part of that campaign. I was the director of media outreach for a little while.
But on the other side, the Yes on Proposition 16 side, they were able to get what I would call white guilt funds from people like Reed Hastings, the Netflix billionaire. Reed Hastings donated 5 million to their campaign. Then there was a hospital that donated 2 million. There were teachers unions that donated a couple million. They were able to raise over $13 million. So the No one Proposition 16 side raised $2 million, the other side raised $13 million.
And so we went to battle. We did a huge fight for No on Proposition 16. We called our campaign, Don’t Divide Us and we won. We won at the ballot box. 57 per cent of California voters, the most liberal state in the nation voted against Proposition 16, to 43 per cent yes. Majorities of white, Asian, Hispanic and black Americans voted against this proposition because they understand that even though we do want to help the communities, and we should help the underprivileged, we should not use race to treat people any more in this country.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems very kind of counterintuitive to a lot of people, perhaps to a lot of viewers and always to me that we would be, as you’re suggesting, actively discriminating as a matter of policy in this society.
Mr. Xu: It is counterintuitive. We as a country have had a history, unfortunately of racism and discrimination and no one tolerates that. America right now, actually, as a matter of racial tolerance is actually one of the more racially tolerant countries in the entire world. We have over 95 per cent of Americans believe that it would be totally fine to have a neighbor of a different race. That is one of the highest in the world.
In countries like India and South Korea, they’re in the 60s and the 70s. So we’ve made a lot of progress as a country. But at the same time, you have these efforts to redivide people on the basis of race to roll back this element. It can be Harvard discriminating on the basis of race or it can be the equity policies now advanced by the Biden Harris administration that seek to preferentially give certain vaccines or benefits or money towards certain marginalized groups.
Of course, they define marginalized in terms of race. You have this rollback of policy to re-institute race in our country, supposedly for helping the underprivileged. But all that really does is divide us and that’s what we argue in Color Us United and in my book, “An Inconvenient Minority.”
Mr. Jekielek: Kenny, you paint a very, very compelling vision with this new work Color Us United As we finish up here, can you tell us what’s next for that?
Mr. Xu: Your listeners and your watchers can go to colorusunited.org. We are launching massive campaigns to fight for a race blind America. What we’re doing is targeting specific institutions that we believe can change or that need to change on their own matters of race. For example, the Salvation Army right now is one institution that we’re targeting. They’re a great organization. They’re doing such great work, but their leadership has recently released a pamphlet that says, “Let’s talk about racism,” where they’re asking their members to repent for racism, even though most of their members are not racist.
All this does is instill bitterness and guilt in people. People will question their own intentions with regards to race. It’s going to cause more racial division to talk about race in such a manner where you’re asking people to repent for racism. So we are launching a campaign to petition the Salvation Army, Salvation Army employees, and volunteers that says, “There are more productive ways to have this kind of discussion than to ask people to repent for their own racism.” We’re going to take that position all the way up to the leadership of the Salvation Army. If you guys are interested in getting involved with that cause, you can just sign our petition at colorustunited.org and we’d be happy to accommodate that.
Mr. Jekielek: Kenny Xu, it’s such a pleasure to have you on again.
Mr. Xu: Thank you so much, Jan, I appreciate it.
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