I generally avoid commenting on the racism and ignorance of Bill O’Reilly because my guess is that he just plays a bigot to get attention. It’s an ugly ploy. Just check out the video clip from his show I embedded below. While he rants about Asian American liberalism in Hawai’i, the footage that runs of a Waikiki street scene mainly features women in tight fitting clothes, shot from behind. It’s the kind of thing intended to make you look.
Racism for money is the worst kind of bigotry. It makes O’Reilly a tempting target, but I just don’t like to feed the beast. However, the rant about the liberalism of Asian Americans that is featured in this clip deserves comment.
O’Reilly is promoting the lie that Asian Americans are, perhaps by “culture” or some other such non-existent shared characteristic, unusually hard working, and that hard working people are generally conservative. Hence Asian Americans should be conservative rather than liberal. It’s an exercise in myth making and illogical reasoning, but in this exercise he’s not alone. In fact, it’s a major tenet of conservative racial thought. And the fact that so many across the political spectrum buy into this belief makes it an extremely effective weapon in their war against the s0-called “takers,” by which they mean just about all of us.
So, here’s my response. First, Asian Americans are no more or less hard working than anyone else in the U.S. Saying we are denigrates Americans in general, especially those that conservatives have suggested lean toward liberalism because we are “takers” rather than “makers,” a belief that is at the foundation of Mitt Romney’s disparaging comments about the 47%. The reality is that American workers put in more hours per year, take fewer days off, and are more productive than our European counterparts. In fact, some suggest that Americans are not just hard working but overworked, leading to a decline in the quality of family and community life that is evident all around us.
And there is no correlation between liberalism and laziness. The most reliably liberal voters in the U.S. are Jews, African Americans, and Latinos. To suggest that Jews, Blacks, and Latinos aren’t hard working is ridiculous. One is left wondering if Mr. O’Reilly and his cohorts know anything at all about the history of this nation, much less the contemporary demographics in factories, farms and food processing and packaging plants all across the country where the more onerous jobs, the browner the ranks of workers.
Another group more likely to lean liberal are women, especially single women heads of households. To suggest they aren’t hard working is just sexist misinformation.
But it serves the agenda of conservatives to laud the supposed industriousness of Asian Americans in order to disparage the work ethics of those who, by race or class, suffer from higher rates of poverty. It suggests that our work ethics and not the cumulative impact of historical injustices and public policy are to blame for social and economic inequities.
So let’s take this myth that Asian Americans are harder working than others apart. Asian Americans have the highest median household incomes among Americans grouped by race. But whites have higher per capita incomes than Asian Americans. Put those two facts together, and the reality that many Asian American households don’t fit the nuclear family profile may be more a factor in our relative success than our supposedly strong work ethic.
Those higher family incomes may include the social security benefits of grandparents who may also be depending on Medicare and/or Medicaid. That in turn might start to explain our relative liberalism. Combine that with the repellant effect of conservative attacks on benefits we’ve earned through lifetimes of investment, not to mention the racism and xenophobia of so many prominent conservative leaders (like Mr. O’Reilly), and the fact that over 70% of Asian Americans voters chose against the Republican in the presidential race looks less like an anomaly and more like simple math, as in bigotry + conservative economic policy = defeat.
So, no, I don’t like giving Bill O’Reilly the attention on which he so obviously thrives, but in this case, I had to make an exception. This myth of Asian American exceptionalism is not just an attack on Asian Americans. It’s an attack on all of us.