Sunday, March 17, 2019

Asian-Americans: the Glaring Omission in Progressive Politics

Politicos on both the left and the right have traditionally assumed that middle-class Asian-Americans boast a status akin to whiteness.

While right-wing billionaires sue Harvard on the grounds that affirmative-action programs for disadvantaged minorities discriminate against both asians and whites, many left-wing publications ignore asian-americans altogether when discussing issues of racial justice. Those that do frequently note the diversity of the "AAPI" (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community, separating "privileged" middle-class demographics, like Chinese-, Japanese- and Indian-Americans from working-class Filipino- and Vietnamese-Americans.

However, although middle-class East Asians tend to enjoy incomes comparable to or higher than the white majority, they experience subtle but pernicious discrimination in the social and cultural spheres of American life.

Asian-Americans of all stripes are under-represented in film, cable and broadcast TV, comprising as few as 3 percent of film roles and 2.5 percent of cable Television roles in 2016. Those Asians that do manifest on the Silver Screen tend to be shown as either crafty foreigners, sexually-incompetent dweebs or a combination of both (look no further than the Hangover's Mr. Chow).

Asian-American youth are the demographic most likely to be bullied in school. Asian-American adults are the least likely to be promoted to corporate management positions (despite being over-represented in the professional fields). And Asian-American males are the least-likely to "match" with a partner on both gay- and straight- dating websites.

The last fact hits particularly close to home. I have spent days at a time on Tinder "swiping" right (on profiles of all races) without getting a single match. The infrequency with which I match on Tinder or Bumble heightens the stakes for each match I do get, so that my anxiety acts up when I finally land a date. My lack of success in online dating, has caused tremendous personal frustration in the last 5 years.

All of these forms of racism speak to an enduring typecast of Asian-Americans as effeminate foreigners, who are good at math but poor at people-skills, leadership, decisiveness and other traits that define the heterosexual "man's-man". While stereotypes about African-Americans and Jews (though still pervasive) must at least be coded for utterance in polite society, jokes about Asian's "tiny dongs" and accounting skills get a pass in the (ostensibly-) most progressive corners of America.

Despite embracing an attitude of #resistance to the Trump presidency, many progressives have showed ignorance or indifference to the revelation of Harvard's racist "personality" rankings of Asian-Americans (which admittedly came about as part of a lawsuit that had a reactionary agenda, but still...). The Democratic Party's minority outreach efforts ahead of the 2018 midterm election focused primarily on Latino voters, despite the fact that Asian-Americans are a principal demographic in the suburban swing districts crucial to Democrats' success. To date, I can find no example of a progressive policy focused explicitly on the concerns of the Asian-American community.

Indeed, rather than confront Trump's racially-coded China-bashing, the Democratic party's most liberal politicians have-in many instances-piled on. Even if the protectionist tarriffs Democrats propose are primarily economic in focus, they lend credence to an agenda that is as much about nationalism as about restoring trade deficits.

Although Trump has (with a couple exceptions) avoided overt racial animus towards Asians until now, his record on race indicates that he is more than capable of stirring up anti-Chinese, if not anti-Asian sentiment, say, if a crisis erupts with a China or if his poll numbers falter.

Can progressives be counted on to defend the rights of Asian-Americans, as participants in the American social contract rather than as foreigners deserving mere "respect", when the time arises?

I would hope so. But the evidence so far suggests otherwise.

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