The Manipulation Factor: An Asian American Take on O’Reilly, Race, and Asian Americans


Yesterday, Bill O’Reilly took us from the No Spin Zone to the make-your-head-spin zone in his rant, “The Truth About White Privilege.” And what was O’Reilly’s “truth?” That white privilege is a myth, the proof of which lies in the experience of Asian Americans. Here’s the gist, according to O’Reilly:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for black Americans is 11.4 percent. It’s just over five percent for whites, 4.5 percent for Asians. So, do we have Asian privilege in America? Because the truth is, that Asian American households earn far more money than anyone else. The median income for Asians, close to $69,000 a year; it’s 57,000 for whites’ $33,000 for black — so the question becomes why? And the answer is found in stable homes and in emphasis on education; 88 percent of Asian Americans graduate from high school compared to 86 for whites and just 69 percent for blacks. That means 31 percent of African- Americans have little chance to succeed in the free marketplace because they are uneducated. They are high school dropouts.

Asian Americans also tend to keep their families intact. Just 13 percent of Asian children live in single parent homes compared to a whopping 55 percent for blacks and 21 percent for whites. So, there you go. That is why Asian Americans, who often have to overcome a language barrier, are succeeding far more than African-Americans and even more than white Americans. Their families are intact and education is paramount…

…[And of black leaders] Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault.

So, in short, according to O’Reilly, so-called “Asian” characteristics like educational achievement and two-parent households are what are needed for success, and the fact that Asians exhibiting them has resulted in us being so richly rewarded is all the evidence we need to dispel the notion that there is such a thing as white privilege.

Mr. O’Reilly’s attempt to pit Asian Americans against African Americans is an example of the worst kind of self-serving racial manipulation, but it is sadly neither new nor original. In fact, the supposed social mobility and financial and educational achievement among Asian Americans been used again and again as so-called evidence of post-racialism and a failure of everything from civil leadership to work ethic among Black Americans.

The problem with his argument is that, beyond the obvious victim-shaming and blaming, it relies upon manipulated data and unfounded claims that muddy the waters concerning the very real experience of anti-Asian racism, even as they justify anti-black racism.

So, as one Asian American, I’d like to set the record straight about Asians.

But, first, let’s untwist some of the ridiculous anti-black tropes here. In numerous studies, it has been found that Black people engage in drug abuse no more than, and maybe even less than whites do. And, as whites comprise a much larger percentage of the population, white people constitute the largest group of consumers of illegal drugs, even while being imprisoned for that crime at a much lower rate. So, given the relatively high incomes and low rates of unemployment among whites, it is simply illogical to suggest that Black poverty is the result of drug abuse.

And, Mr. O’Reilly’s claims that a lack of education is a prime contributor to Black unemployment also fails to pass the smell test. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that the rate of unemployment of Black college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 in 2013 was 12.4%, more than twice that of their non-Black peers (5.6%). That made the unemployment rate among Black college graduates in 2013 higher than the current overall Black unemployment rate as cited by O’Reilly (11.4%).

In another study, white men with recent criminal histories were found to be far more likely to receive calls on job resumes than similarly qualified black men with no criminal record at all. And a Young Invincibles study that finds that Black college graduates have the same likelihood of finding a job as a white high school drop out. If it’s not white privilege that is driving these results, are we to assume that dropping out of high school or committing crimes is what gives the whites in these studies an edge over Black college graduates?

Mr. O’Reilly’s “I want to tell you one thing more I know about the Negro” rant is full of holes. But having established that, let me tell you a few things I know about Asian Americans.

First, the claim that high median Asian family incomes is proof of a lack of white privilege is just wrong. The reality is that higher median family incomes among Asians is based on at least two factors: 1) Asian families include more wage earners, and 2) Asian Americans tend to be clustered in cities where median incomes are higher overall. The reality is that even with the wage per hour edge of being concentrated in high cost of living, high wage cities, per capita income among Asians is lower than for whites, as is family wealth, and the rate of homeownership.

Second, while Asian Americans as a whole are the most highly educated racial group, Asians are the least likely group to be promoted into managerial positions in both the public and private sectors. So while we enjoy a lower rate of unemployment, it may just be because we’ll work for less.

Third, the Asian American experience demonstrates that the so-called “intact” family with two-parents at home is not by itself a causative factor in determining “success.” Asian Americans’ supposed edge in this area remains consistent across Asian ethnicities in the U.S.  So it’s true of Japanese Americans, who, as an ethnic group, have among the highest rates of college graduation and per capita incomes among all Americans, and among the Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian Asian ethnic minorities who all exceed the national average rate of adults without high school diplomas of 19.6%, with the Hmong and Cambodians on the extreme end of disadvantage at 59.6% and 53.3%. And, these same groups are among the most impoverished Americans, with Hmong average per capita income from 2007-09 being just $10,949, and the most successful of the Asian groups most affected by poverty that I’ve listed here, the Vietnamese, at just $21, 542.

I could go on to cite statistics that indicate that Asians suffer most from long-term unemployment, or that Asians are falling into poverty at a faster rate than other racial groups, but I think my point has been made here. Asians do, as an aggregate, enjoy certain privileges over other racial minority groups, but that advantage is greatly exaggerated. Moreover, whites still enjoy a significant edge over Asians when it comes to how we are rewarded relative to our compliance with “family values,” and by pretty much in every measure of “success” except educational attainment, which the growing number of college graduates living in relative poverty because of student loans can tell you is mostly a money-out proposition.

Trying to manipulate statistics to hide this fact in order to leverage animus against Black people, or at least against Black leaders, by comparing Blacks to Asians is just playing the race card. People like O’Reilly like to use Asians (and use is the operative word here, isn’t it?) to make excuses for the collective failure of our society to address the reality of Black poverty and unemployment. They do it, ad nauseum.

Why? Perhaps because where racial inequity is concerned, white privilege is the carrot, and plain old anti-black racism is the ultimate stick.






Avatar photo

By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

15 replies on “The Manipulation Factor: An Asian American Take on O’Reilly, Race, and Asian Americans”

Your argument that educational inequality is not a significant contributor to emplyment disparity is deeply flawed. Using the employment rates of graduates alone to dismiss the effect of educational disparity implicitly assumes that the total education of both black and white graduates is equal. It’s not; structural inequalities in education disadvantage black Americans long before anyone steps foot in a lecture hall.

Black American students generally have access to much lower quality of primary and second education than white American students. Consequently, black Americans have far lower graduation rates, lower grades within the same schools, are less likely to attend ‘prestigious’ schools and are less likely to choose academically challenging STEM fields. The end result is that, on average, black graduates are less qualified than white graduates. Even in a fantasy of completely color-blind hiring practices and higher education policy, the disparity in precollegiate education between black and white Americans would create an employment gap.

Incidentally, talking about black and white students without accounting for nationality is misleading as well. African immigrants have the highest academic achievement in the US, but black Americans are among the lowest. As bad as it looks, a simple black/white breakdown actually understates the problem.

Jacob your argument that black are less employed because they are less STEM qualified is flawed and defeated by this statistic:

Between 2010 and 2012, 10 percent of black college graduates with engineering degrees and 11 percent of those with math and computer-related degrees were unemployed, compared with 6 percent of all engineering graduates and 7 percent of all those who focused their studies on math and computers.

Even the STEM college graduate blacks have higher unemployment. If that’s not racial disadvantage, what is?

Han is right. The fact is, the disparities are consistent whether degrees are won in arts and humanities or in STEM disciplines.

I think you misunderstand the point of my post. I do not claim that black americans face no racial disadvantage, but that exclusion from high quality educational resources is, in itself, a racial disadvantage that coupounds with the other disadvnatges black Americans face, including hiring discrimination.

Besides, your stat does not weaken my claim at all. Your stat only shows that having a STEM degree does not immediately make a black student’s prospects equal to a white student’s. I never said that and it’s obviously untrue.

If you wanted to show that differences in STEM education have -absolutely- no effect on the employment gap, you would need to show that:
1) The employment gap is the same for both STEM and non-STEM graduates
2) Independent of race, both STEM and non-STEM graduates have the same employment rates.
3) The distribution in quality of STEM education is equal for both black and white students.

None of those is true. The four point gap you provide for the STEM employment gap is significantly less than the 6.8 point gap in the total population [].and the employment rate for STEM grads is 4.3 points better than the US average [].

Unfortunately it’s very difficult to find good stats concerning the racial differences in quality of STEM degrees, espcially since white STEM students are extremely reluctant to accurately self-report race,. Anecdotally, however, black students are heavily under-represented in elite STEM programs. I attended a lecture in a top-three computer science university some years ago. Of the ~500 students, only two were black.

If being exluded from elite programs with an average starting salary of $90k isn’t racial disadvantage, what is?

This is a pretty badly flawed argument. The truth is that the statistics remain consistent, though with some minor improvement, across class. So Black students who graduate from primarily white suburban schools and attend elite institutions of higher learning certainly do better than those who attend state schools, but still not as well as white students of similar experience. The difference is in a combination of access to social networks and discrimination, which is also demonstrated by the fact that in one study, white high school drop outs do as well as Black college graduates, and in another Blacks with no criminal records fair less well when competing for jobs against whites with prior criminal records, even when that fact is revealed in resumes.

The point is, there is discrimination. Of course, it has also been demonstrated by yet another study that whites are more likely to believe that have had contact with ghosts (not just believe in them, but have had encounters with them) than that racial discrimination is a serious problem in our society. So, my guess is that arguments of this sort fall on teflon intellects with some people. Some people find the possibility that race may affect our perspectives in a manner that makes it difficult for some of us to accept that discrimination plays a role in employment outcomes that they are more likely to accept that they were visited by supernatural beings.

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my argument. Racial discimination in hiring is very well documented and I don’t deny it.

The point I was trying to make is that it is incorrect to ignore the differences that arise from disparities in early education. As you say, black students who attend suburban schools and high quality universities do better than black students who do not. The same is true of white students. A better education creates better opportunites regardless of race.

Therefore, the fact that black students are much, much less likely than white studetns to attend high quality insitutions should create it’s own employment gap -in addition- to the gap created by racial discrimination. To use one statistic to completely dismiss the effect of education is an oversimplification of the problem.

Lest we forget in this healthy dialogue the numbers we are reacting to is success and graduation rates …versus drop out rates. Those numbers may surprise. The general number but more importantly amongst different Asian groups drop out rates swing wide. For example South East Asian numbers college drop out rates are huge, equal or even more I suggest to any disadvantaged group. Agree location may effect but when you add the sub group or even generational variables 1st, 2nd….5th generation will respond and may have very different access or results. I am not objecting to Jacob’s understandable points and I agree that we as Asians can not say (or really is it necessary) we see or have the same limitations as African Americans. No dispute that disparities and discrimination has been frontal and brutal for the majority of African Americans. Ours is just different, damaging and tends to be muddled up in our own psyche. I believe Scot is trying to rally us to not buy deceptions until we can sort some of this ourselves.

I am not a strong proponent of sub categorizing however I especially say this to my fellow Asians that we should remind ourselves periodically that we are not all the same in terms of history, achievement or obstacles. I do however agree Scot with your points that advancement as any end point (glass ceiling) can be and should be a wake up call that no matter which numbers we are looking we tend to be more often than not on par with other groups. Better the refrain beforehand to be we are People of Color.

As an educator and older Asian American I have learned Lying with Statistics is nothing new, given to advertisers and unimaginative souls like Bill O’Reilly. Which way we look at the chart is old tricks.

It is all about the attitude of individual who perceived unfairness in the public.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… discrimination?
As an Asian, I tend to prove them (racists) wrong about their prejudice by action or education. Some could understand and start to respect me as an Asian, and some don’t.

After all, being an Asian walking to the public domain, my sub-consciousness reminds me about my responsibility of keeping a good image or reputation for Asian community.
A pride of my culture.

Hello Mr. Nakagawa. My name is Suyu Zhang, and I am a big fan of yours. I am an Asian American Immigrant who was born in China, raised in Japan and came to this country 10 years ago as a scared teenager. It has taken a lot of learning, and a lot of painful eye opening experiences to become aware of the truth about our 21st American existence. I just want to say thank you for all of your writing pieces from the one on how Asians did not become white to the one on why you focus on anti-black racism (Anti-blackness as the fulcrum) and etc. Being a non native English speaker and having experienced my share of discrimination in both Japan and the US, I cannot be grateful enough for the fact that you’ve helped me become able to verbalize a lot of the things that I am also passionate about; things that I have also felt and wanted to explain. Through reading many of your pieces, I have reclaimed my Asian and American identity. I am currently in the process of applying to Medical School and hope to spend the rest of my life finding ways to battle discrimination, systemic racism, health care disparities, and health care justice from a human rights and wellness perspective. I hope to be a trail blazer like many of my Asian American ancestors that, while we are not bonded by blood, we are bonded by our collective conscious, memory and experiences in this country. One of the greatest struggle of my life growing up here and in Japan has been a fight to remain relevant. My unique set of experiences and challenges have made it difficult at times to believe that my voices, our people’s voices and existence is as relevant or can be relevant on a day to day basis, but I am slowly, and surely reclaiming that right of existence.

I hope to one day contribute to this Race Files as a writer, and inspire other Asian American and POC folk as well

Suyu Zhang

Thank you very much for your comment, Suyu. The goal of the blog is to do just what you’ve described – create context, social connection, analysis, that sense of relevance you described that I’ve also struggled for in my life. I really appreciate your kind words. Good luck with medical school and all of your endeavors. We welcome new writers at Race Files so please do stay in touch and feel free to submit pieces. The experience you describe here is inspiring. I have a feeling a lot of people would find strength in what you have to share. Take care. Scot

Scott you failed to mention the biggest reason for Asian American economic successes. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which favored initial Asian Americans from high social-economic backgrounds and their subsquent petitioned family members.

Our entire immigratition system seeks to bring in those high-skilled science/engineer types, who tend to come from the elite families back in Asia. Therefore, of course as a whole Asian Americans (East Asians, South Asians) are going to do well when you pick the cream of the crop. Note when Asians coming to America come through the refugee/asylum system (Cambodians, Laotions, and Vietnamese) the level of poverty is far below African Americans.

It’s the same reasons why immigrants from Africa are very high-achieving, except for African immigrants who came through the refugee system. The level of economic success depends on the type of immigrant you allowed in.

Racial disadvantage against Asians DO exist, but society isn’t as negatively biased against Asians as it is against Black Americans. There is a reason for that.

Racial disadvantages for Black Americans are very real and it’s our (as Americans) responsibility to close the gap, but it must never be an excuse to condone criminal activity or violent behavior.

The sad truth is, the percentage of crime rates amongst Black Americans are very high, and humans, who subconsciously categorize information that are collected by the brain over a period of time, will equate Black Americans as being dangerous, as terrible as that sounds. Yes, it is terribly unfair for the Black Americans that strive to live as model citizens. I really hope that these model Black American citizens feel inspired to shape the stereotypes of Black Americans for the next generation, with the support of the government, society, and people that are just more sensitive of how much more that needs to be overcome for a Black American to achieve the same level of success as another race.

Comments are closed.