Two Excerpts from: Effecting Change Through Affirmative Action

Malvika Gupta

Writing For Myself: Why do I, A South Asian Woman, Support Affirmative Action?

I do not want to relinquish my Asian Indian American identity grounded in the struggles of my family against the colonization of India, the enslavement of my fellow African Americans, the exclusion of my Chinese American brothers and sisters from the United States, the internment of my Japanese American neighbors during World War II, the deaths of immigrants crossing the border through El Paso, and the Bangladeshi and the Pakistani brothers detained illegally on fabricated visa status charges.

Why must I be asked to surrender my attachment to our race-based history and present fight to dismantle a race-based class structure, without inviting the dominant group in our country to yield their white privilege? No, I am not an American Born Confused Desi! I don't qualify for that category. I am a product of a multi-ethnic and an intercultural democracy that allows an individual to retain his or her multiple identities consisting of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religion, disability, athletic ability, political affinity, economic status, and self-proclaimed righteousness.

Affirmative Action is personal not just because it affects the society I live for and live in, but also because it affects my circle of life, my friends. Even if South Asians had never received any benefits from Affirmative Action, I would still be in favor of this policy because it serves justice by providing equal opportunity to any who are susceptible to a race-based power structure and mentality (such as the one South Asians hate to talk about). As a teenager, my parents like other Indian and Pakistani parents had explicitly forbidden us from dating black men.

Fortunately, over time, my parents' provincial attitudes left Plato's cave and saw the light. However, the revelation that all of us are created with equal ability and unequal circumstances came to my family thanks to many shouting matches, threats, and silent treatments. In order to effect social and economic change, South Asians do need to face race.

Facing the Race: It's Not Just About Meritocracy

I emigrated from India at the age of ten, and began my schooling in the village of Spring Valley where my family and I have lived for almost fourteen years. Spring Valley is the Mecca for suburban immigrants. It consists of Haitians, Jamaicans, West Indians, South Asians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Polish, Russian, and Israeli immigrants, along with African, Irish, and Italian non-immigrant Americans. Growing up in Spring Valley, most of my friends were black, Jewish, or Indian. While all of us lived in either lower or middle class homes, our respect for our families and the importance they placed on hard work in school was the same. However, we had another similarity in our upbringings: our families constantly reminded us that we had to work twice as hard due to the inequalities based on race, ethnic origin, and gender embedded in our societal system.

Affirmative Action is just such an acknowledgement: race, gender, and class struggles do exist. As high school seniors, my friends and I were well aware of the space society had boxed us in, and we knew that we would spend the rest of our lives ripping out of it. My friends and I understood that merit alone does not guarantee success because we had witnessed our parents getting passed-up for promotions at their workplace knowing full well their dedication and aptitude. We were fully aware of our space.

Unfortunately, our fixation on the hegemony of grades and salaries lulls us into a false sense of security offered by the meaning of assimilation. The goal of assimilation as demised in high school textbooks is to assure the resignation of identity in order to decrease dissent and devalue the exchange of differences. As South Asians, we believe in maintaining our heritage through the integration of our cultural assets into the dominant group by insisting on making our children bilingual, and educating them after school or on weekends about the dos and don'ts of the South Asian culture. In fact, integration has not always been easy for South Asians, but we have achieved it in India, South Africa, Kenya, United Kingdom, and now America.

The objective of integration, as understood by post-colonialists around the world, is to involve the socio-political identities that maximize the competition within our marketplace of ideas. If we are to truly live in an equitable intercultural democracy, we must recognize that the relationship between education and democracy is dynamic. Education must be equally accessible to all and must provide space for students to define what it means to be an American citizen from varied experiences and perspectives. Undermining the role of Affirmative Action allows us to diminish the responsibility of educational institutions. Do we want to be identified solely as national minorities for centuries to come, or are we aiming to redefine Americanism to include the South Asian perspective?