THE BLOG

Are Asians the New Invisible Man?

05/25/2011 12:40 pm ET
  • John Ridley Emmy-Winning Commentator and Writer for Esquire

In the category of Things We Already Know, a new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds that most Americans believe "racism is widespread against blacks in the United States." As is to be expected, the degree that people hold this belief is dependent on their own race -- black, white or Hispanic. The survey in and of itself is worth taking a look at but, like I said, doesn't exactly stun with unexpectedness.

Except for one thing...

What was interesting to me was that a survey about how "most Americans" feel about racism and minorities didn't include responses from Asian-Americans.

They're not minorities? They don't have views on racism?

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders make up only about 5 percent of the population, so by default maybe they lie outside the strict definition of "most Americans." But the poll was culling a variety of racial attitudes, and it managed to include views of racism against whites. You'd think if the survey had room to include views on the pervasive systemic oppression whites suffer through (now go back and read that sentence sarcastically), they'd take the time to chat up an Asian or two.

But why didn't they? And why don't we hear more about and from Asians when it comes to race in America? Are Asians the new Invisible Man -- there but not there? In some ways, yeah. Blacks and whites are always carping about the metrics of racism. And any conversation about immigration reform is immediately flipped into a referendum on Hispanics.

But Asians rarely seem to weigh in on, or have their rallying cause, with regard to race in America.

I haven't had the time to do a full scientific study, but the couple of Asian-Americans I talked with -- I know how that sounds, but, hey, that's a couple more than USA Today/Gallup bothered to talk with -- said that mostly they don't care to talk about race. Instead, they tend to have a "go along to get along" attitude.

This propensity to be cool is often misconstrued as the "Asian as the model minority" stereotype. And it is, in fact, just that -- a stereotype. That's not to imply that Asians are somehow bad folks, but that -- just as is every other minority -- they are regular folks. But we can't know that if every time opinions are sought out, they are passed over.

Clearly, not all Asians are comfortable just "being cool" about issues. And Asian-centric political action may be a more recognizable movement in coming elections.

Their opinions getting left out of one of any number of surveys on race may seem like a small thing. Maybe it is. But I think if we're really going to have an Obamaian dialogue on race in America, then we've got to have the widest dialogue possible and not just hear from the traditional "big three."

Now, that would be a poll that might fall outside of the Things We Already Know category.