I am proud to be an Asian American woman of Korean descent. But sadly, I did not always feel this way. For most of my childhood, I was embarrassed by my appearance, my name, my food — anything that made me different from everyone else in my all-white, rural community in Tennessee. One of my earliest memories is looking at a silhouette of my profile in preschool and disliking how flat my face appeared next to the silhouettes of the white children in my class.
My childhood experiences left an indelible impression on me: that race is a defining trait that can create tremendous burdens for children of color. That is why I became a civil rights lawyer, and it is why I work at a racial justice organization. The racial bias that Asian Americans experience will persist as long as other people of color suffer from discrimination themselves. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of the model minority myth: that we are the “good” people of color, who are not quite white, but white enough and do not suffer from our own disadvantages.
That myth belies the historical truth for Asian Americans in this country, who were once considered so foreign that we were legally barred from the privileges of full citizenship. We share a history of racial oppression with Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos, having been subjected to discrimination in immigration and housing, to segregation in education and to racially motivated violence.
Given this history and my own experiences, I am troubled by the false narrative that racial diversity in education is at odds with the interests of Asian Americans. This misconception is on full display in the lawsuit filed against Harvard College in 2014 and currently set for trial this October, which seeks to erase the racial and ethnic identity of all applicants to Harvard. Contrary to the assertions of Edward Blum, who founded the organization that brought this case, racial diversity is intertwined with racial equality.