Last weekend on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, Wade Henderson the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund said the following regarding the presidential election:
I found the interesting statistic to be the Asian American vote. Because the Asian American community doesn’t have the homogeneity, the cohesion that people have talked about. You’re talking about South Asian, Vietnamese and others. The fact that they gave 73% of their vote to the Obama presidency tells you that it really is about policies and not about demographics alone. They are the community that is most likely, it would seem, to align with the Republican party because their economic interests are very much the same.
That same weekend, on Up With Chris Hayes, Mr. Hayes made the following statement:
…almost no one has noticed what to me is the most shocking result, and that’s how the two candidates did with Asian-American voters….Asian-Americans are also, according to the latest census, the fastest growing racial sub category in America. In fact, the census projects that by mid-century they will make up 9% of the country. And as it happens, Asian-Americans are also the nation’s highest earning ethnicity, with median incomes even higher than those of whites.
So you might have predicted that Mitt Romney would do well with them, since he won among voters making more than $100,000 a year.
But he did not. He got creamed, losing Asian-American voters 73% to 26%. This is a shocking result not only because just 20 years ago George H.W. Bush carried Asian-Americans comfortably, or because the margin is so wide, but because the entire category of Asian-American is so obviously a construction there’s little reason to suspect members of the group would vote with each other in any discernible pattern…
This was one of the first times I’d heard Asian Americans discussed on a nationally televised program dedicated to politics. As I noted in a previous post, my firm, ChangeLab, pulled the transcripts of seven weekly political commentary programs televised between January 1-June 30 of this year including Face the Nation, Meet the Press, State of the Union, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox News Sunday, Up with Chris Hayes, and Melissa Harris-Perry (which wasn’t on for the whole period).
Over the course of that 6 month period, these programs aired 169 episodes. Only one featured discussion of Asian Americans, the May 27, 2012 episode of Melissa Harris-Perry. Other than that, in the entire 6 month period under study, the term “Asian American” was uttered only seven times. And one was a sports reference.
Since then in spite of programs focusing on race and the elections, and even race in America, Asian Americans were simply not part of the discussion.
But then, the election results came in and suddenly, there we were, relevant because we did something surprising enough to get folks’ attentions. Of course, we weren’t allowed to speak for ourselves. Nope, other people spoke about us. The single exception was Up’s inclusion of conservative Romney health policy adviser Avik Roy, who knows just about as much about Asian Americans as anyone who just happens to be Asian American.
I’m going to give folks some slack here and say that inexperience is the reason for the clumsiness. The inexperience, on the other hand, I’m not going to let slide.
In that spirit, here for the virgins are my five guesses as to why Asian Americans voted for Obama:
- Asian Americans have been cast as perpetual foreigners, even when we are American-born. Given the way that race was used by the GOP to cast Obama as not quite American, even foreign and therefore dangerous or ineligible to be president, I’m guessing Asian Americans saw that their interests lay elsewhere.
- We aren’t all wealthy. Most Asian Americans are wage earners who don’t benefit much from eradicating inheritance and capital gains taxes. In fact, the median income of Asian Americans is well under the $100,000 a year tipping point after which voters were more likely to support Romney.
- Some of us, such as Vietnamese, Laotian, and Hmong Americans, are among the poorest people in the country. We are aware of that even if others aren’t. You might arrive at a more useful analysis of us if you didn’t first reference our diversity and then address us as a monolith.
- As many as 1.5 million Asian immigrants in the U.S. arrived without documentation. When Republicans attack immigrants as “illegals” they are talking about us, too.
- Asian Americans are people of color. In our own generation or in generations before us, we have benefited from programs such as affirmative action and many of us are one or two generations removed from desperate poverty and even peonage. This is part of our American story and, yes, we do have stories, as in histories, that started before you noticed us.
Of course, those are just guesses. But those guesses are based on actually having talked to and worked with Asian Americans in the context of Asian American communities. I’ve listened to their stories ad fought for their issues. And for that reason, Asian Americans are always on my mind when I hear the terms “American,” and “voters” and “people.” And that makes me more of an expert than just about any of the folk who have a platform on TV to talk about politics. And, those folk, in spite of their ignorance, tell a story about us all the time by simply acting as if we don’t exist.