Kenny Xu: Centering Culture
One of the most contentious social issues of the modern age is the question of racial privilege; specifically, which racial groups are considered privileged and which ones are not?
But this question has been oversimplified, both literally and proverbially, into black and white, which overlooks the multiracial reality of our nation. Mixed into the masses are hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, white ethnic minorities, and multiracial individuals, to name just a few. Given this complex reality, how do we assess the relative privilege or power of these barely definable “groups” in a tribalistic framework that focuses exclusively on white privilege?
Kenny Xu, an Asian-American journalist and author of An Inconvenient Minority, has attempted to address the issue of racial privilege—and the relationship between Asian-Americans and affirmative action policies in particular—from the perspective of an Asian-American, a group often referred to as America’s preeminent “model minority.” When Xu proposed the idea for his book to his political science professor at Davidson College, she replied, “Good luck getting sympathy for rejected college Asians.”
“I had a lot of encouragement by proxy of discouragement,” Xu remembers. “[It] just kind of struck me that she would say something like that, because wouldn't you be sympathetic with anybody discriminated against? I don't see anybody being snarky about women who are challenging gender-based discrimination in their companies, even when somebody could say, ‘Oh, you're making enough money. Who cares?’”
Despite his professor’s dismissiveness, Xu, at only 24 years old, is now a published author. He began his writing career as a culture and politics reporter covering Students for Fair Admission (SFFA) v. Harvard, a lawsuit that accused Harvard of using its affirmative action policies to actively discriminate against Asian American applicants. Despite first being rejected by a Massachusetts district court judge in 2019, the case has now made its way to the Supreme Court.
As a strong opponent of racial discrimination, and as an Asian-American himself, Xu sympathized with the plaintiffs. He recognized in their cause some of his own college experiences with anti-Asian discrimination. He spoke at a rally in 2018 for the Students for Fair Admission movement, and then began writing and publishing on the topic in The Federalist, The Daily Signal, and The Washington Examiner.
“When I went to college, people were saying things like, ‘Whites are at the top and blacks are at the bottom and the United States is a white supremacist country,’” recalls Xu. “And I said, ‘Well, if the United States is a white supremacist country, how come they would let these Asians get ahead of them? That doesn’t make much sense. And furthermore, the policies that you’re advocating for seem to actually discriminate against whites, and particularly Asian Americans. So it doesn't seem like what you're advocating for really stands for people like me.’”
Many progressives tend to view race as the primary influence on every individual’s life, and racism as the root cause of any societal disparities between racial identity groups. Xu rejects this idea, arguing that culture is the most important variable to focus on. Asian Americans, he points out, don’t often come to America with the help of generational wealth or social standing. Yet, they have still been remarkably successful compared to other racial groups, achieving the highest incomes and college graduation rates. Xu credits this success to Asian cultures that emphasize virtues like hard work and discipline.
This year, Xu helped found Color Us United, an organization that uses targeted media campaigns to counter what they call the “racialization of America.” Their website’s homepage proudly declares “race is a choice.”
“Color Us United, which I'm president of, is an organization that fights for a race-blind America. The way we do that is [through] institutional guerilla warfare. We tackle Critical Race Theory in institutions, policies that harm and damage employees by racially dividing them, and we fight through a number of lenses for the principle of race blindness,” says Xu.
Xu joined the FAIR’s Board of Advisors and has since spent time connecting with other members, speaking at events, and otherwise “very much enjoying himself.” While there is significant overlap in purpose and mission between FAIR and Color Us United, Xu prefers to think of FAIR’s “pro-human” approach a little differently. “I think pro-human is a good slogan,” explains Xu. “My personal preference is to talk specifically about the need to move past and transcend race, which is why I bring up the term ‘color blindness.’”
Xu’s desire to work with FAIR and other allies, while questioning specifics about wording, speaks to Xu’s central philosophy: “I've never liked groupthink,” he admits. “I’ve always wanted to add to the narrative in some way and challenge other people.”
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