Asian American students have a target on their backs thanks to critical race theory

·5 min read

I've been joining a group of parents in Fairfax County, Virginia, on Zoom to discuss our mounting concern over the rising vilification of Asian Americans in the area.

But if you think we are worried about nativist hate groups or white supremacist organizations, guess again. The perpetrators in this drama are none other than the very school officials we have entrusted with our children’s education and well-being.

To understand what’s behind this conflict, look no further than the controversial ideology of critical race theory, which praises or blames members of a particular race solely because they happen to be that race and seeks to interpret all forms of perceived injustice through a racial lens. This ideology has swept through America’s educational system at every level and is erasing our different narratives as Asian Americans from different backgrounds and — to our shock — marginalizing our children and us.

The ugly truth about critical race theory is that it inevitably seeks to fight racial hierarchies by instituting new forms of racial hierarchies. And Asian-American parents are increasingly taking notice.

Hard work shouldn't be punished

I know because I’m one of those parents.

My teenage son attends the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ for short) in Alexandria, Virginia, a Governor’s School for students gifted in science, technology, engineering and math, where 70% of the students are Asian American, many of their parents immigrants, like me, who believe deeply in the idea of an American Dream in which people advance in life with hard work. The crown jewel of the Fairfax County Public Schools system, TJ was ranked America’s No. 1 high school by U.S. News and World Report.

Asra Nomani speaking at protest for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Virginia, in September 2020.
Asra Nomani speaking at protest for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Virginia, in September 2020.

County school officials set out to correct the supposedly problematic over-representation of Asian American students at TJ by watering down the strict admission standards. The school has used a long-standing challenging race-blind, merit-based exam to determine admission.

But, in December 2020, the county school board, led by Fairfax County Public School Superintendent Scott Brabrand, replaced that exam with a new process that includes completing an essay and a "Student Portrait Sheet" that reveals "experience factors" like language spoken at home and family wealth.

Don't blame the tests: Getting rid of standardized testing means punishing poor students

Although the new process states it will "use only race-neutral methods," in practice this subjective set of standards allows them to pick and choose the students they prefer to achieve their desired racial balance and keep out too many Asian American students.

Many Asian American families, like mine, have worked hard and sacrificed to prepare their children to meet the rigors of the test and the TJ curriculum. We protested this weakening of standards — in part because it was clearly aimed at reducing our numbers in the student body, but just as importantly because it would degrade TJ’s long tradition of advanced learning.

TJ leadership has dismissed those concerns and repeatedly put the focus squarely on racial balance at the school and the number of Black and brown children at TJ, somehow overlooking the fact that the many students of Indian descent are “brown.” We don't begrudge any child who is qualified and meets the previously rigorous criteria from attending TJ. Nor should our children be begrudged the opportunity simply because of their Asian heritage.

Discrimination is never just

Asian American students in 2021 are experiencing the same type of discrimination and bigotry that Jewish American students faced a century ago. In 1922, Harvard University President Abbott Lawrence lamented to alumni and donors who complained about the number of Jewish students that he had "foreseen the peril of having too large a number of an alien race, and had tried to prevent it.”

Most of us recoil at such rhetoric today, and rightfully so. But Lawrence’s perspective on Jews a century ago is similar to how today’s elite educational administrators discuss Asian Americans. The only difference is that today they wrap their prejudice in the soothing and noble-sounding therapeutic language of diversity.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds: Why is Harvard discriminating against Asian Americans? 'Diversity' is no excuse for racial bias.

Nor is the anti-Asian vilification limited to one school system. In recent months, we’ve seen similar moves to marginalize Asian American students at schools in New York City, Boston, and Washington state, where one district decided Asians no longer qualify as people of color. Where Asian American families have worked to teach their children that academic achievement and intellectual labor will earn rewards, those children are being removed from the system.

But we are standing up to these bullies. We are working with the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation to file a lawsuit against our school board and superintendent for violating the right of Asian American children to equal protection under the Constitution.

Education officials in Virginia and elsewhere should get the message that the Asian American community will not stand by meekly while our children are marginalized. One Zoom call at a time, we will fight for the American Dream.

Asra Q. Nomani is a parent of a student at Thomas Jefferson High School and Technology and the cofounder of Coalition for TJ, which has filed suit against the Fairfax County School Board and the board's superintendent. She is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and the author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam." Follow her on Twitter: @AsraNomani

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Elite TJ High School is just the tip of anti-Asian discrimination