By Charles Li
In recent years, there are a few bills and laws being introduced throughout the country with the goals to disaggregate the Asian American community. They are together referred as Asian American Disaggregation Bills or Asian American Ancestry Registration Bills.
In Minnesota the bill was SF 2597 All Kids Count Act, and it passed through Minnesota Senate in March 2016. Governor Dayton signed the bill into law in May 2017. The pilot implementation of the bill is set to start this fall in several school districts and charter schools, including Minnetonka Public School and St. Paul Public Schools.
Nationwide, these Asian American Disaggregation Bills, pushed by such advocates as Ted Lieu, Judy May Chu, and Mike Eng, are usually disguised under the pretense of facilitating “racial preferential treatment" policies. In year 2012, the Department Education under the Obama administration issued the official directive for “the Disaggregation of Asian and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Student Data and the Use of Those Data in Planning and Programmatic Endeavors. On May 4, 2016, former President Barack Obama announced his disaggregated data collection initiative. While these bills claim to promote medical research, education, etc., their nature is to disaggregate Asian Americans, which account for only 5.6 percent of the American population, and to further label and divide them by their ethnic origins. In Minnesota, the bill was said to be for better student accountability reporting, in particular on test results, graduation rate, connecting with student ethnic origin information. However, in another aspect, linking test results and graduation rate with race and country origin seems to be racially problematic due to historically discriminations based on race.
Asian Americans are not the first victims of using identity to promote racial policies. Historically, each racial segregation policy and their worse forms started from racial identification registries. Notorious examples are Nazi Germany’s racial discrimination and persecution of Jews, apartheid in South Africa, internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II in the U.S., and the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. These historical events of racial hatred, abuse and genocide all started with the identification of specific ethnic groups. They later evolved into massive abuse of government power and cruel deprivation of life, property and political rights. It is scary to think of these Asian Disaggregation Acts as history repeating itself. These legislations are nothing but attempts to use government power to violate personal privacy.
In fact, Asian American Disaggregation Bills in the country have been growing in recent years and are becoming a social and political trend. The proponents have been promoting a racial quota system across the board in college admissions, job recruiting, and other areas as well. The racial quota approach fails to exclude the interference of ethnic-, sex-, age-related factors in competition and judicial processes. Instead, such an approach even emphasizes these factors in the distribution of resources. Asian American Disaggregation Bills specifically target and further divide Asian-Americans.
In Minnesota, the disaggregated data collection bills on selected ethnic groups have been promoted by some Asian American activists for some time, especially those from the Hmong community. They believe that disaggregated data will provide them a base for asking for more government funding. However, that seems to be ignoring the facts that every ethnic community has some people who are doing better and others who are struggling. Therefore, distributing government funding, welfare assistance and other resources such as higher education, employment, etc., based on ethnic group will be sure to create conflicts among communities and ethnic groups because government resources are not unlimited. When one group is getting more, another group will be sure getting less.
The Chinese Minnesotans are voicing their concerns on the disaggregated data collection bills because of above-mentioned problems. Over the past one-and-a-half years, several community groups have been working together with State Legislature, Department of Education (MDE), and Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans (CAPM), etc. to resolve their concerns. On April 12, 2018, more than 300 people from several Asian communities gathered at the Capital and held a peaceful rally against implementing the disaggregated data collection bill. They chanted “Unite, not Divide,” “We are all Americans,” etc,, showing their distaste of the controversial bill passed by the state legislature. One thing deserving public attention is while CAPM as a state agency representing Asian Americans in the State and Legislature testified to support the disaggregated data collection bill, the agency didn’t collect any valuable and effective input from the greater Asian communities.
Many Chinese Minnesotans don’t believe disaggregated data-based government welfare and support system will help resolve educational disparity among ethnic groups. They consider the education-based welfare support is just to give people “fish” without teaching people “how to fish;” therefore, it would only make people depend on welfare support without actually learning the skills to get away from welfare dependency. They believe the internal drives in individual students are the keys to drive educational excellence. In addition, ethnic origin-based disaggregated data collection would allow to tag/label/profile individual ethnic groups and individual students, which could cause more problems in schools such as race/country identity, bullying, discrimination, etc.
In summary, it seems the proponents of disaggregate data collection bills have good intention to use the data collected to help address the educational disparity among ethnic groups. However, they have not been able to provide a clear path to show how the data will help other than thinking of using the data to decide where government funding can be distributed.
The American welfare system is over 100 years old, and it can be seen that some community groups are consistently regarded as welfare dependent, indicating that welfare is not the solution to social and educational problems in society. It is hard to see how disaggregated data collection would be able to solve the educational disparity issue either. Using disaggregated data to solve education issue is in uncharted waters. In another aspect, the data collected could allow stratifying the society based on individual ethnic group’s education-ability, and then that would bring new social issues.