This is originally a letter to my kids in college
Subject: Racism and Victim Mentality
I have a golf buddy who holds many beliefs that are more liberal than mine. He is a very smart guy and thinks a lot about political and social issues. We enjoy golfing together and often have heated discussions on the course. One big topic is racism in America. He sometimes openly, and other times implicitly, argues that I should support his liberal ideas because I am Chinese and must have suffered a lot from racism in America.
Yes, I did. During my years in university and in the business world, I met a few people who consciously did not like Chinese, as well as many others who thought they were not racist against Chinese, but they actually were. By racist I mean that they believed I could not be good enough for a position or for getting a contract just because I am Chinese. For example, during my 2nd year in the Ph.D. program, a chaired professor told me face-to-face that I should quit because my paper would “never have a chance to be published,” but one of his political rivals skillfully leaked to me that the same professor said in a closed door meeting of professors that my paper was “even publishable in the current form.” He meant that the paper was too good to be true and so must be written by someone else. He suspected that my advisor wrote it for me. The claim was, of course, total baloney. Politics in academics can be crazy.
That Ph.D. program admitted about 10 students in my year, and I was one of the only 2 who graduated in the normal 5-year period. The other one already had a Ph.D. degree in a related field from Western Europe before entering the program. I later published my paper in the most prestigious journal in my field, which was very rare for new Ph.D.’s. It was a total vindication. To my advisor and others who supported me, the publication was a definitive proof that they were right, and the chaired professor was wrong. To me, it cleared my self-doubt after the chaired professor declared that my research was not good enough. He was obviously a dishonest and two-faced lowlife, even though he was accomplished in academics and held many big titles.
After graduation, I heard from multiple sources that the several important professors in the program were known racists and had low respect for Chinese. The chaired professor was one of the worst. Under his long-term leadership, the Ph.D. program forced all students from mainland China out without a degree before my time. I graduated in early 2000s and became the program’s first Chinese Ph.D. It is unheard of that a well-known American Ph.D. program never had a graduate from mainland China up to 2000s. After knowing there had been many other Chinese students wronged before me, I considered suing the school for discrimination. There seemed to be ample evidence, but the plan did not materialize in the end. At that time, I had four babies, a new career on Wall Street, and a paper needed to be polished for publication at a top academic journal. Later on, I started my own business and became even busier. There was too much on my plate, and it was just physically impossible to start a long and consuming legal fight. It is one of my biggest regrets in life.
Racism was, and still is, a big problem in the U.S., and my kids will probably suffer from it down the road. Of course I am strongly against racism. Racism is morally wrong and is very personal to me. It hurts minorities as well as America as a whole. I am forever grateful to those civil-rights pioneers, like Martin Luther King. They dared to stand out and fight back when minorities were oppressed. Their brave fights against racism make America great and help me and my kids. However, I do not agree with the current generation of liberals on racism because they support Affirmative Action (AA) as the alternative to the old-fashioned racism. Instead, I support the original American ideal of “equal protection of all individuals regardless of race,” which means race-blindness. In my opinion, race-blindness is the only right alternative to racism, and AA is not, because it treats people according to racial quotas, and that is unmistakably racist. For example, the ideas that a professional basketball team must recruit a certain number of Asians and a top private university must admit a certain number of African Americans are obviously racist and equally absurd. The Supreme Court right now supports AA as a remedy for racism, but I think AA should only be a temporary solution at best, and the Supreme Court should clearly stipulate a sunset plan. In a few cases, for example Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court implies that AA will eventually phase out, but the language is too narrow and vague.
AA often makes things worse than the old-fashioned racism can ever do. In my experience, a real-life racist typically believes that a minority is inferior on the job. But if the minority shows he is good, racism will be proven wrong for one more time, and the racist has a chance to change his mind. Things do not always happen in this desirable way, the process can be slow, and people can be wrongfully hurt during the time. As humans, the American people are flawed, but they do have their ways to correct themselves and mitigate racism without government intervention. For example, in early American history, Italian Americans and German Americans were targets of discriminations but were later assimilated into the society largely in such natural ways. In contrast, AA allocates social resources according to racial quotas dictated by the government or large institutions. AA does not encourage its beneficiaries to work harder and makes others rightfully resentful because it is fundamentally unfair. Hence, AA often exacerbates the racial divide rather than heals it. Moreover, AA gives the quota-setting discretion to the government or large organizations and takes away power from the people. Thus, AA makes America less free and less efficient. Both the old-fashioned racism and AA are racist and morally wrong, but if they were the only choices, I would rather pick the former.
Racism is the sore of the American society, but after 20 plus years in this country, I am still very optimistic about her, because I have found that, with hardworking and excellence, most minorities can overcome the old-fashioned racism in America. The same cannot be said about China or other countries. For example, many jobs in China require local residential permits. It is basically a government-dictated quota system on steroid, and no matter how hard you work or how good you are, you cannot overcome it if the government does not give you the quota in the first place. AA is also a quota system. Expanding AA in America makes America more like China, where I tried so hard to leave. I oppose AA out of my deepest belief that, even if people are imperfect, it still makes a nation better off to give power to the people than to the government. In real life, AA is especially bad for Asian Americans, because they are clearly targets of discrimination but are almost always excluded from AA preferential treatments.
I experienced racism but do not want the victim mentality to dictate my thinking, because America is still a place full of hope, and my own experience is a testimony. For example, the chaired professor in my Ph.D. program discriminated against me because I am Chinese, but after I produced a good paper, other professors stood up to him, and his opinion was discounted, even though he held the highest position. If it were in China and some high-up wanted to hurt me, I would have a much harder time to vindicate myself, no matter how good my work was. So, after my Ph.D. experience, my faith in America actually grew. This country still leaves power to the people, and the people by and large still believe in God and uphold basic Christian values. Many years ago, I decided to forgive the chaired professor, because I believe in God and Bible says, “As God has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Besides, he yielded in face of my paper at the end and did not invoke more dirty tactics. He was two-faced but still better than many bad people I met in the past.
My kids will start to work soon and will likely face racism too. I hope they will keep their faith in God, love America, and reject the victim mentality. They are masters of this great country, and they need to learn how to behave as masters, just like a prince learns how to behave as a prince. If they regard themselves as mere victims of racism, they lower themselves to the level of guests or servants in their own homeland.