Obama and Asian Americans

I’ve been in the US for a little over a week now, and – among other things – I’m overwhelmed by the wall-to-wall coverage of the US Presidential Race. Outside of a national disaster, I can’t think of such sustained, in-depth coverage of any other event in my lifetime. And yet, with so much coverage, much of it overlapping, I’m more than a little surprised that the US media is still tip-toeing around one of the most interesting and important issues to emerge from the California Super Tuesday primary: namely, why are Asian Americans supporting Hillary Clinton by a 3 to 1 advantage over Barack Obama? This is in rather stark contrast to the deep coverage devoted to Hispanic voters and their roughly 3 to 1 preference for Clinton over Obama. So what’s holding back the American media?

One possible reason is that “Asian American” as a term encompasses several nationalities. But, then again, so does “Caucasian” – and nobody hesitates to talk about white voters. Fact is, in California and elsewhere, the exit polls are tracking how this vaguely defined ethnic group is voting.

Let’s not be coy about this: tensions between African Americans and Asian Americans are nothing new. Books have been written on the subject – especially on the tension between Korean immigrants and African Americans – and it doesn’t take five minutes in a Korean grocery in an urban American neighborhood to feel the tension (I used to live around the corner from one). This is an ugly, uncomfortable topic, and I’d guess that’s why the American media has – so far – pulled back from it. But, like it or not, if Obama’s candidacy succeeds, this discussion is bound to become louder and – sooner or later – somebody’s going to put it on the front page of the New York Times, the Washington Post and – for that matter – China Daily. It’s a big deal.

Isaac Chotiner at the New Republic has written the most thoughtful missive on the subject that I can find. But as good as it is, the fifty-some comments that readers posted afterwards are even better, offering a fascinating insight into the nuances of a discussion that the US media isn’t yet ready to cover or host (and when’s the last time that an article can inspire fifty comments that don’t descend into a flame war after comment four?). It’s hard stuff, for sure, and it’ll surely ruffle some feathers. But nobody’s interest is served by pretending that this trend doesn’t have multiple, tangled cultural roots.

2 comments

  1. This is good stuff. The American propensity for contemplating the national navel sometimes gets carried away with the surface veneer. Obama could become the catalyst for a more diverse community that we need here in the USofA.

  2. “One possible reason is that “Asian American” as a term encompasses several nationalities.”

    Excuse you, this is incredibly offensive. Asian American emcompasses only ONE nationality. AMERICAN. It’s because of comments like this that Asian Americans are perpetually seen as foreigners, by all races alike. You mean, Asian Americans are made up of many ethnicities…like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Asian Indian.
    You ask why whites are not analyzed, perhaps because whites do not have the same kind of institutional barriers to voting like other minorities, say, years and years of discrimination at polls?
    You may be writing about China, and you may now live in an Asian dominated place, and you say you lived near a Korean American owned grocery store, but do not pretend to know everything about Asian Americans because Asians and Asian Americans are completely different. I suggest you read “Strangers from a Different Shore” by Ron Takaki to read about the long history of Asian Americans in the US for answers to your question. Asian Americans have long been scapegoats by the media, and the incident you are referring to is the LA riots where stereotypes and institutionalized racism were in play, and not at fault of the Korean Americans.

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