The Folly Of Taking Asians For Granted.
One of the more surprising outcomes of the recent Presidential election was the overwhelming support shown for Obama by Asian-Americans. Almost invisible during the campaigns (particularly in the Romney camp) the way that Asians voted went against all expectation. my sense is that this is because, as I've written before, much of the commentary that I have read that has been written by western "experts" on Asia and its peoples often seems made up or largely coloured by preconceived ideas that can only be described as chauvinistic in nature.
A recent report from the Pew Corporation seemed to suggest that Asian-Americans have achieved a level of economic success equal to, or slightly better than, that of the white majority. In terms of both household and personal income, Asian-Americans rate as some of America's highest earners. Although disputed by many Asian-American commentators for not taking account of higher per-household earner rates amongst Asian families, and for completely ignoring around 17% of Asian-Americans from some Southeast Asian groups whose high poverty rates and chronically low employment and below poverty-line income would have lowered average income rates for the entire group considerably, the Pew report was widely lauded as evidence of a successful immigrant minority group that has moved passed issues of racial inequality and "come good".
Most importantly, for this essay, is the fact that the findings of the Pew report seemed to show that Asian-Americans were almost no brainers for the election - their income levels, and even purchasing trends, all suggested (according to some) that the community would be full-on for the Republican cause. The completely unpredicted outcome of the election has shocked many of the commentators on Asian-Americans, although I would suggest that Asian-Americans themselves are far from surprised that so many of us would vote the way we did. What this highlights is the degree to which the dialogue on Asian-Americans is out of touch with the reality of our experience and that much of the certainty and truth about what Asian-Americans think and believe derives less from what they say about themselves and more from self-proclaimed "experts" taking advantage of the fact that Asian-American opinions are invisible in most of the narratives about them.
It probably should go without saying that much of the thinking on Asian-Americans is built fundamentally on a foundation of stereotype and gross generalization. The outcome of the election has defecated in the gaping mouths of shocked observers whose smug assertion of Asian predictability has been shown to be an embarrassing folly. What it revealed is that despite commentators claiming to "know" the Asian-American community, much of what is predicted about us must be appallingly ignorant and perhaps even informed more by cultural and racial stereotypes than an unbiased assessment of reality.
So what does the outcome of the election say about Asian-Americans? In terms of stereotypes the Asian vote seemingly belies several things that are believed about us in one fell swoop. Asians are often derided for being driven by money over everything else - making them a-political in their pursuit of the dollar - unconscientious and inconsiderate of social inequality, and racist towards African-Americans. Strange then that such a group would vote for a black man, whose party stands for social justice, greater inclusiveness, and fairer wealth distribution. It is no longer
politically expedient to assign qualities and beliefs to a group of people
about whom very little is actually known whilst cynically excluding them
from the dialogue.
And it is really quite a simple concept to understand - reaching out to Asians like they are actual human beings instead of a formless mass of de-individuated statistics with no human qualities might yield more positive results. Despite being not yet substantial enough to necessarily swing anything less than the tightest election - although this is likely to change in the not too distant future - the Asian vote illustrates how deceiving it can be to rely on income stats, and the opinion of self-proclaimed experts, when discussing Asian-Americans. These tactics have been used as a means to feign inclusiveness and understanding, whilst in reality is a way of avoiding meaningful engagement.