A member of the MLK, Jr. Day March raises his fist and a sign advocating for justice amongst the crowd. This year’s march was dedicated to backing Initative 1000, which would “redefine affirmative action in Washington, providing equal opportunities through recruitment, hiring, outreach, training, goal-setting and other methods designed to increase diversity,” according to their website. Photo by Grace Madigan.

By PARISOL (Pacific Rim Solidarity Network)

We are Chinese residents of King County, the ancestral lands of the Puget Sound Salish, Duwamish, Snohomish, Tulalip, Skokomish, and Puyallup people, and members of the Pacific Rim Solidarity Network (PARISOL). We strongly denounce efforts by the group “Asians for Equality” to suppress affirmative action in Washington state. Initiative 1000 (I-1000) was passed by the legislature in April 2019 and allows affirmative action without the use of quotas in the state of Washington. This coming November 2019, Washingtonians will be asked to vote on Referendum 88; a “yes” vote on Ref 88 would uphold I-1000 and affirmative action, and a “no” vote would overturn I-1000 and set progress in Washington back by decades. In their efforts to oppose I-1000, “Asians For Equality” wants to unite the Chinese community to perpetuate the oppression against communities of color who would most benefit from I-1000, including many Asian communities. Below is an overview of the initiative, its opposition, and the commitment PARISOL members make to continue a legacy of solidarity with Native, Black, and other people of color (BIPOC).

I-1000 is an affirmative action initiative that permits demographic classifications to be taken into consideration when two applicants are equally qualified for a job position. It explicitly disallows racial quotas and preferential treatment based solely on race. The initiative by itself does not mandate that employers hire more people of color. However, it creates conditions that allow for the introduction of policy that remedies proven discrimination against and disparities in representation of people of color in the workforce and at public universities, thereby increasing access to opportunity long denied to many communities of color, especially Native, and Black Washingtonians. We are in favor of this initiative and all initiatives that authentically increase access for historically marginalized groups.

The leadership of “Asians for Equality” made up primarily of wealthy, Chinese individuals based out of Bellevue, WA who have been vocal in their opposition to I-1000. “Asians for Equality” members do not like affirmative action policies because they open the door to opportunity to more people, potentially creating more competition for more privileged Asian applicants. “Asians for Equality” and their conservative, mostly white allies have deliberately misled the public, appropriating the language of social justice and claiming that they are taking a stand against racism. This is not true — by opposing affirmative action, they uphold institutional racism. Affirmative action policies exist to remedy the many ways in which institutional oppression, including racism, has marginalized people of color, women, disabled people, LGBTQ people, and those born outside of the United States. The effects of banning affirmative action in Washington are deep and wide. Since the ban was passed in 1998, state contracts with businesses owned by minorities fell significantly, from 13.3% to less than 3%. The admissions rate of students of color to state universities has plunged. This is not a problem that can fix itself; to begin healing this wound, we must stand together and support affirmative action to begin righting the wrongs of this disastrous ban.

“Asians for Equality” attempts to speak for all Asians in Washington, but they fail to mention that their efforts would only benefit the very wealthiest East Asians and deeply harm other Asians. Asians who are currently underrepresented at universities and would benefit from affirmative action include, but aren’t limited to, Vietnamese, Filipino, Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, Bangladeshi, and more. “Asians for Equality” pretends that the playing field is level for all Asians, which is provably false. There is deep inequality even within Chinese communities, where many hardworking families have just a fraction of the wealth “Asians for Equality” members do. Referendum 88 touches a nerve within Chinese communities because many Chinese individuals believe that financial success is a result of hard work in the pursuit of the “American Dream” myth. But the ability of Chinese people to succeed now is thanks to the dedicated, courageous work of Black leaders and other people of color during the Civil Rights movement and in the years since that has cleared the way for non-white people to succeed.

This is not a post-racial country. Chinese workers, both recent immigrants and those who have lived here for generations, continue to face discrimination and racist aggression. Black communities face racial profiling, mass incarceration, and police violence. Latinx communities, as well as Cambodian and Vietnamese communities, are being ripped apart by ICE. Native American nations struggle against poverty and an epidemic of missing and murdered Native women. “Asians for Equality” focuses on “anti-Chinese racism,” as if to claim the weight of oppression against Black, Brown, and non-East Asian bodies as their own. Their appropriation of social justice language is deliberately encouraged by white conservatives who want to use Chinese people as pawns to obscure the issue and cause confusion on all sides. Ultimately, “Asians for Equality” is fighting for a small piece of pie instead of joining hands with other communities of color to pursue mutual liberation and dismantle white supremacy, which hurts us all. But Chinese people are not the pawns of those who want to use us for their benefit. When we stand together and do not allow ourselves to be divided by racists and opportunists, we can more effectively create the just and thriving world we all deserve.

For these reasons, we support I-1000 and all efforts to acknowledge shared histories of oppression and increase access for people of color, other Asians in Washington, and especially for Native and Black communities. In November, we hope you will join us in voting “yes” on Referendum 88 to support affirmative action.

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