Video: How Asian Success Challenges the Woke Racial Narrative—Kenny Xu and Kangmin Lee
Discover American Thought Leaders: In-Depth Discussions on Key Issues with Jan Jekielek and His Reporting Team
As talk of systemic racism increasingly dominates society, at least one group doesn’t quite fit the narrative. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we sat down with Kenny Xu, author of the upcoming book “An Inconvenient Minority,” and Kangmin Lee, a YouTuber and content creator, to discuss Asian-American success in America, woke ideology, and the assault on meritocracy.
Jan Jekielek: We’re here with Kenny Xu at CPAC 2021. Kenny, you’re writing a really fascinating book that we’ve just been discussing, “An Inconvenient Minority.” Very, very interesting. Tell me more.
Kenny Xu: Thank you, Jan. My book, “An Inconvenient Minority,” is about the Ivy League admissions cases that have been going on in the attack on Asian American excellence. For your viewers who may not know, Harvard University and many other Ivy League universities have been accused of discriminating against Asian Americans to make room for under-qualified preferred minorities of different races, that is, black and Hispanic minorities.
It raises this fundamental tension, I think, in our society, especially in our work culture, which is what happens when you privilege the narrative of certain minorities over others, because Asian Americans are often second class in the left’s racial narrative today.
Mr Jekielek: This is very fascinating. I’m sure too many people on this show have been following some of our interviews looking at woke ideology, … what [the Left] themselves call, critical social justice, and that James Lindsay identified in his book “Cynical Theories” with Helen Pluckrose. It seems like you get these inconvenient questions that are posed: Is it because Asian Americans tend to perform better in academia?
Mr. Xu: If the statistics don’t lie, despite the fact that the left’s narrative is that if you are a white person, you’re privileged, or if you’re a person of color, you’re oppressed. Asian Americans inconvenience that narrative because although they’re a person of color, and they have experienced racism and discrimination in this country—I think the recent wave of anti-Asian attacks prove that to be completely true, they still have experienced racism—they still perform at a level that is comparable to whites and even higher than whites in things like grades, average SAT test scores, average income, and those kinds of things.
They inconvenience the narrative of the left because even though they’re supposed to be oppressed and supposed to play victims because of their culture, and because of their educational skills and traits, [they actually] are able to achieve a modicum of middle class success in this country.
Mr Jekielek: I’ve even heard that there’s this language used where basically, you’re kind of white. How does it work exactly?
Mr. Xu: “White adjacency”—that’s the new narrative in our culture today. One thing I talked about in my book, at some of our top gifted and talented programs in the country: such as Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax [County], Virginia, the number one high school in the country, it is 70 percent Asian American. 70 percent Asian American because Asian Americans are just performing at a higher level in math and science.
But now, some of the activists over at Thomas Jefferson are trying to lower the number of Asians in the school because they’re embarrassed about how many Asians that there are and how bad it makes their own communities look.
Mr Jekielek: Why do they say that it makes their communities look bad? What is the logic for that?
Mr. Xu: They wouldn’t say that. The logic is, we want to increase diversity in the schools and the logic is, black and Hispanic minorities in Fairfax, Virginia, are not able to get the opportunities to succeed, so we need to artificially elevate them to that level where they can be admitted to Thomas Jefferson, the number one high school in the country.
There are a couple of issues with that. One is what is the place of an elite public school, one of the best schools in the nation whose mission is supposed to be cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers that will help our country progress? Should we take out more qualified applicants in favor of less qualified applicants in that kind of program?
Two, some of the facts also contradict this because actually, if you look at the admissions process in Thomas Jefferson, it’s not that the admissions officers are being racist, it’s that the underrepresented minorities are underrepresented in all parts of the process. Even, there are very few blacks and Hispanics in the semi-finalist rounds. Obviously, that is a big issue in the community and everything like that, but I don’t think it can be solved by just artificially inflating those numbers.
Mr Jekielek: That’s interesting because one approach, the traditional approach, or at least in theory, has been whoever performs best should get the position.
Mr. Xu: It’s a meritocracy.
Mr Jekielek: Of course, it hasn’t been a perfect meritocracy and we know that, and so this woke or critical social justice approach is trying to solve that problem. Basically, you’re arguing that they’re trying to solve it the wrong way, then you get this inconvenient situation that Asian Americans find themselves in.
Mr. Xu: You bring up a really interesting point because it is true that admissions at Harvard is not a perfect meritocracy. In fact, it’s not really even a meritocracy at all, and there is actually a lot of privilege, so to speak, in Harvard admissions, particularly for legacy people, children of donors, children of faculty.
I used to live in Princeton, where Princeton University was right in front of me, like gloating over me all the time. There was a lot of bitterness from the student population because there would be these students in high school who were just not that qualified [but] who would get in because their parents were teachers or professors at Princeton. So you’re right in a sense that none of these things are perfect meritocracy, but to try to solve that by artificially inflating on the basis of race, I think is a dangerous idea.
Mr Jekielek: Heather MacDonald has actually argued that placing people who aren’t qualified for whatever reason—we’re not applying any judgment as to why they’re not qualified—into these prestigious elite universities actually creates this downward spiral. People are expected to perform a certain way, [but] they can’t because they’re just not at that level academically, and then they feel like there’s some kind of racism or something against them in that situation. What do you think about that?
Mr. Xu: I think Heather’s right. I talked about this in my book—there’s a Princeton professor of math. The math PhD program in Princeton is the top math PhD program in the entire world, really one of the top math PhDs. A very selective number of students can ever be applied. There’s this one student who was admitted because of her race, because she was a black woman who was good at math, but she wasn’t great.
The story that the professor told me is actually heartbreaking because this woman came into this math PhD program in which she was surrounded by math Olympiad winners, and she just struggled immediately right out of the gate and got very bitter. The admissions officers wanted to let her in because she had this amazing story, because she was a preferred race. She struggled immediately at this top level math PhD program and she eventually left very bitter and actually embarrassed the school and the program. It’s very sad.
Mr Jekielek: This is one of the examples that you cataloged in your book.
Mr. Xu: There’s another side to this that people don’t often see. Whose spot is that person taking? She was taking the spot of somebody who could have not only just benefited from the program, but provided a great benefit to that program, who had the necessary qualifications, [but] who was denied just because he was a certain race or because his face looked Asian, who could have done so much with that opportunity, and I think that’s the hidden cost.
Mr Jekielek: White or Hispanic, or male or female—it just doesn’t matter. The issue is more performance.
Mr. Xu: Exactly. This is why, in my book, I make the strongest case possible by using Asian Americans for why—in order to heal our culture of excellence, in order to have our country be able to move in the place that we need to move—we need to come back to these ideas of meritocracy.
Mr Jekielek: Are there any places in America now that have something resembling that, or is it all gone in this direction? Actually, where there are various characteristics, it’s not just race that is considered.
Mr. Xu: I’ll give you two examples that I find very compelling. One is the NFL and NBA. In the NBA, it’s 75 percent black. Nobody is saying, we want 15 percent Asians, or we want 6 percent Asians in the NBA. It doesn’t work like that. You are chosen based on how you perform and I think that’s a great thing. We shouldn’t be advocating for equity there necessarily. It’s a performance based system, that’s what makes it work, and that’s what makes it fair too.
The other example is pretty interesting. It’s the U.S. Army. In the military, in order to be able to come into the military, you have to pass certain tests or certain exams. You’re not given a plus because of your race. There are programs to help you if you are not at the level that it needs to be, but at some point, you have to pass the standardized process to be able to get into the army and that actually helped black Americans in this country greatly. Black Americans who come to the military are disproportionately likely to have stable careers and stable families [for] the rest of their lives.
Mr Jekielek: Fascinating. It’s such a pleasure to speak with you.
Mr. Xu: Thank you, Jan. I really appreciate it.
Mr Jekielek: We’re here at CPAC 2021. It was really interesting running into you in the hallway, Kangmin Lee. You have a very, very interesting story. You’ve been, what some people call, red pilled. You experienced a kind of ideological change. It’s an interesting story. Why don’t you tell me about it?
Mr. Lee: Very briefly, I grew up in a blue state. I was surrounded a lot by very left-leaning individuals. I went to school in L.A., and we all know L.A., let’s just say, [has] lots of leftists there, and lots of liberals. I was always constantly told that President Trump was a racist, a misogynist; conservatives were terrible, white supremacists; Republicans hated Asians.
Mr. Lee: So for me, as an Asian, everyone told me, “You must be a Democrat, always. You must be Democrat, you must vote Democrat, you must be on the Left.” So I hated President Trump with a passion. I thought only white people were conservatives. I was in this bubble, and they started cultivating this bubble for me where people like Ben Shapiro would come onto campus and people were protesting, and I protested with them.
But then, my last semester of college in fall of 2019, I came across a post on my Facebook newsfeed which was President Trump, and there’s this left-leaning outlet making fun of him and saying, “He called Mexicans rapists.” I [thought], “Typical Trump,” and then I went into the comments sections and I looked at this one person who said, “This is the full clip, watch this video.” Then I [thought], “Interesting,” and I clicked on it. I watched the full clip, only a minute, very short, and I realized, even with my bias against Trump, it’d be completely intellectually dishonest for me to come out of that, watching that, concluding that he called Mexicans rapists.
So I was saying, “He’s accusing a lot of human trafficking and a lot of heinous crimes coming through the border and on the border. Is this true?” I looked it up. It’s a huge problem, and that was the start of my red pill journey. After that, I realized that Trump—his rhetoric very outrageous and rambunctious for sure—what he was saying was, actually, a lot of the times, very true. The media was just on a huge smear campaign to smear conservatives, to smear President Trump, and smear anyone who dissents from their rhetoric.
Mr Jekielek: That’s interesting. Obviously, we’ve heard stories like this. I’ve heard many over the years. What’s really interesting is the theme of this whole conference is America Uncanceled. When you started thinking these different thoughts, were you concerned about your social setting, about the people around you?
Mr. Lee: Yes, of course. As a devout Christian, I realized that American conservatism stems from Judeo-Christian values. I realized, as a Christian, conservatism aligns with my values. I started to realize this, but everyone around me was left-leaning. All my friends, and a lot of young Asian Americans are very much left-leaning, unfortunately.
So I was very quiet about it when I was first red pilled, but then when the BLM riots happened, that’s when every single one of my friends started to plaster BLM on their Instagram bios, post black squares all over social media, virtue signal, and all this performative woke nonsense. I had to say something, because they’re being completely lied to. I came out and I said, “Here are some facts to consider,” and to be expected, I was canceled by most of my friends.
Mr Jekielek: You said many things now that we need to follow up on. What happened? You were canceled. How were you canceled?
Mr. Lee: Basically, I ended up sharing a Candace Owens video about some of the details about George Floyd’s life. I said, “I’m not asserting that I agree with Candace,” which for most of the video I did, “but here are some facts to consider before we bury George Floyd in a golden casket. The death was unfortunate. When I saw the death, I was really outraged as well, but here are some things to consider.” So all my friends who I shared food with, ate with, hung out with, grabbed tacos with, had late night study sessions with, all said the nastiest things to me on the comments section in my Facebook post. They DM’d [direct messaged] me and said the nastiest things, like I’m a despicable human being that doesn’t deserve any friends or respect, and just the nastiest things.
These are Christians, by the way. The nastiest people to me were these woke Christians who thought they were an ally to BLM and those who are oppressed. They’re saying the nastiest things to me [such as], I shouldn’t even call myself a Christian, I shouldn’t even call myself a human being, I’m a race traitor, all these really nasty things. These are friends I spent a really good time in college with.
Mr Jekielek: Fascinating. Earlier you started talking about woke, you said, “woke nonsense,” I believe. Why don’t we start there a little bit. What do you understand woke to be and how did you come to understand what it is?
Mr. Lee: Wokism is a cult. It’s the next or the new secular religion. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it is the new religion. Most people are religious and most people worship something, whether they are religious or not, and so this wokeness is this way for a lot of people who do not have a sense of purpose, because we live in an era of great prosperity. We live in a great time where we don’t have to farm for our food, we can just go to a grocery store and buy something off the shelf.
A lot of these kids have been, unfortunately, raised up in, most of the time, privileged households, and everything has been given to them, so that they’re not fighting for anything. Deep inside the human spirit, a lot of us are longing to fight for something, and to find meaning and purpose in life.
So if you strip away Christianity, if you strip away religion from those people, and they don’t have anything to fight for, they’re going to look for something to fight for. This wokeness [is] this new religion [whereby] you have to virtue signal, show everyone how great you are, how you’re fighting for many of these causes [that] are fabricated. There are lies from the Left and the narrative that’s been crafted by the media. It’s their way of finding purpose in life.
Mr Jekielek: Interesting. So what do you see as these lies that you’re describing?
Mr. Lee: First of all, the lie that this country is endemically, irreparably, systemically racist. I have a friend, Kenny Xu, he’s coming out with a book called, “Inconvenient Minority.” You guys did an interview with him. He’s a really good friend of mine. He talks about where Asians completely debunked the narrative of the Left because Asians were discriminated against, as well as all other minorities, in the early 1900s. In many instances, we were discriminated more because we come here without any connection. We don’t even speak the language. So what you see happening is even black people had more wealth than Asian Americans in the early 1900s.
Somehow, now, we’re the richest racial group or people group in this country. How did that happen? We made smart decisions, we got married, and we had kids after we’re married, we graduated high school, had academic success, all these things and healthy households, which all lend itself to success. We completely debunked the narrative of the Left. So that’s one example that [debunked the narrative that] this country is systemically racist and there are only white people at the top somehow conspiring to keep minorities down.
Another one is police brutality. That is a very big problem, for sure, but there’s this narrative being crafted that police are going around just open season on people who have dark skin colors, and it’s just simply not true. If you look at the data, there are so many more white people who die than black people, by police, every single year.
But [with] this narrative, all my friends thought [that] all their black friends and their black folks were being mowed down by police. They’re cultivating fear in society [to the point] that black people now fear stepping out because whenever they encounter police, they think they’ll be shot. In actuality, they’re more likely to be struck by lightning than they are to be shot by a police officer [while] unarmed.
Mr Jekielek: You’re talking about this culture of fear? How does that manifest in your life anyway?
Mr. Lee: In my life, I see it all around me. So for me, I try to keep it down, but obviously, with the pandemic and a lot of the lockdowns, [there’s] a lot of fear mongering. [Yet] there are a lot of positive results happening—a lot of people recovering, the vaccine is out, different kinds of medication treatments work. All these things were very positive things that should be on the forefront of media. In a time where a lot of people are scared, we need hope.
But constantly, the media is always about COVID numbers, COVID deaths, every single outlet—these are the number of people who got COVID today, here’s the number of people who died of COVID today—this constant fear mongering. It’s easy to control people who are in fear, who live in fear, because one of the things that people want and long for, if you look at Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” is safety and security. A lot of people are willing to give up their freedoms in exchange for safety and security. I believe, as Benjamin Franklin said, “If you’re willing to give up your liberties for safety, you deserve neither.”
Mr Jekielek: You deserve neither, if you value one over the other.
Mr. Lee: Exactly, there’s that, and also the fear mongering of the police brutality narrative for black people. I’ve seen this in my own life where a lot of my black friends were genuinely scared, but then I’ll tell them, “Are you scared of being struck by lightning?” They [say], “No, of course not.” But the chances of you being shot by police, unarmed, is more improbable than being struck by lightning. It’s just fear mongering over and over again.
I see this also with the rise in Asian hate crimes these days. Obviously, we see a rise in violent crimes against Asians, especially elderly Asians in the inner city communities across the nation right now. [With] this constant fear mongering, I see a lot of my Asian friends scared for their lives too, and the media loves to cultivate fear. They love to cultivate fear. The Left loves fear, because if people are in fear, they’re easy to control.
Mr Jekielek: You mentioned something, which I thought was interesting. I haven’t heard that much about some of the details. You talked about woke Christians, perhaps some of your friends, you described them that way. One might think that you can’t do both of these religions, as you described, at the same time.
Mr. Lee: I totally agree. I say this all the time—progressive Christianity is not Christianity. A lot of Christians are coming out as progressive Christians where they embrace gender fluidity, gender nonconformity. They embrace a lot of these woke, leftist, progressive talking points of socialism. They all sound good, but ultimately, we think about absolute truth and objective truth. As Christians, we believe that truth comes from the word of God because God is the source of truth, and the Word of God is divinely inspired by God.
But then, progressive Christianity asserts that morality and the moral standard of the time changes with the culture. If morality is subjective, if truth is subjective, then there is no truth at all, and this is the conundrum that they find themselves in. But if you look at the Bible, the Word of God is the word of God, and God is truth and there’s absolute truth. So I always say: progressive Christianity is not Christianity. So when I say woke, I really mean progressive.
Progressive Christians are not really Christians because you’re deviating from the Word of God. What they’re doing is they’re taking secular ideologies from philosophers like Karl Marx and Hegel and other secular philosophers who hated God, who rejected Christianity, and they’re injecting it into the Bible, shoving it into the Bible, and using Bible verses and biblical texts and the scripture to justify those secular ideologies.
For example, critical race theory is completely unbiblical. But they take the Bible and they say, “Jesus was not a racist, he hated racism,” which is very true, and they use that as justification for critical race theory. So now, we’re going backward to judge people based on the color of their skin and not by the content of their character.
Mr Jekielek: Why is critical race theory incompatible with biblical teachings?
Mr. Lee: Because ultimately, it makes race the most important factor that you should consider. Critical race theory, what it asserts, is that there’s a hegemonic power structure that is cultivated by the people at the top, and critical race theory asserts that those people at the top were white people.
So white people always inevitably—even if they’re the nicest, most kind-hearted, compassionate people out there—are at fault because of the color of their skin, and because their ancestors cultivated this power structure so that anyone who is of a darker skin color, or a minority, or a BIPOC, POC, whatever the talking point is, or whatever label they want to put on these minorities—they are always oppressed. So they make race the most important factor.
When you look at the Bible, the Bible is very clear about looking past that, and there’s no Jew, Gentile, men, women, whoever. Jesus reached out to Samaritans, all these people that Jews hated, because he saw past those labels, and those racial divisions. Because he saw what that person was, and who he was, and their character, more so than their outward appearance.
Mr Jekielek: You said, all the minorities are oppressed. What about Asians?
Mr. Lee: We used to be but not anymore, apparently, because we make up the highest income bracket in the United States and we do so well.
Mr Jekielek: As Kenny Xu, who was on this show as you mentioned earlier, is documenting as we speak. Any final thoughts?
Mr. Lee: I just want to implore everyone who is young and may be a non-white person to let them know that you don’t have to conform to the Left. We have all our cultural institutions, government apparatus, media establishment, Hollywood, entertainment, sports, everyone telling you to bow down to the mob. I want to let you know that you don’t have to, and you don’t have to be afraid, because even if people do cancel you, there’ll be people to accept you and welcome you with open arms as I have experienced where I’ve made so many more friends than I had before.
Although my friends did cancel me, I made so many great friends along the way and I’m able to have this platform where I’m able to share as an Asian, as a non-white person, who’s young and in his early-20s. You don’t need to confrom to the left. Conservatism is the way to go, and we must go back to the American values that made this country so great to begin with if you want to see progress and a better future for this country.
Mr Jekielek: Kangmin Lee, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Lee: Thank you so much.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.