To the Editor:
In the op-ed "Asian America, address anti-Blackness," Kelvin Ng seems troubled that Asian Americans are stereotyped as "apolitical." I am of Asian descent, too, but I am less concerned with generalizations about racial groups. After all, if one wants to argue that race matters, looking at statistical averages for different racial groups makes a lot of sense.
Few would dispute that black people, on average, are disadvantaged, even though there clearly are many blacks who have done very well and are highly privileged. Similarly, the vast majority of people would agree with the assertion that, based on generalizations, white people tend to be better off than other racial groups even though there are alarmingly high proportions of whites in Appalachian Kentucky and Tennessee who have dropped out of high school and live below the poverty line.
So, rather than asking whether it is right to generalize the behaviors and outcomes of racial groups, the question is whether the stereotype is based on facts or not. And the claim that Asian Americans, on average, lack an interest in politics definitely appears to be correct.
In 1990, the Asian-American voter turnout rate was significantly higher than that of Hispanics. But in 2010, it had dropped by almost 10 percentage points, and Asian Americans were suddenly lagging behind Hispanics, as well as whites and blacks.
The extent to which we are underrepresented in politics because of discrimination is a legitimate topic for discussion, but that does not explain why our voter turnout is so embarrassingly low. If blacks had the same low voter turnout as that of Asian Americans in the 2012 presidential election, five million fewer blacks would have cast their ballots.
Nor do Asian Americans show a particularly strong interest in politics in other realms either. As Janelle Wong and co-authors point out in the book "New Race Politics in America," data suggests that only 12 percent of Asian Americans donate to political campaigns, compared with 25 percent of Hispanics and 22 percent of blacks.
Moreover, a survey found that among Asian Americans, over the past four years, only 11 percent had contacted a government official, merely seven percent had protested, and an abysmal two percent had worked for a political campaign.
Even if we were to broaden the definition of political interest to cover public service in general, it does not make us Asian Americans look better—as a group, we are less likely than blacks to do volunteer work and less likely than Hispanics to serve in the armed forces. If Hispanics would have done military service to the same lesser extent as Asian Americans, the number of Hispanic veterans would be cut by a third down to just over one million people.
Of course, we Asian Americans face many unjust stereotypes that have little basis in reality. But a lack of civic participation is not one of them. In this case, instead of fighting the stereotype, we ought to change the fact.
The author, a researcher in public policy and a contributor to The Economist, was born in Taiwan and graduated from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2013.
To respond to this letter to the editor, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.