Let me say, right off the top, that I was disturbed to read last week’s Pew Research report called “The Rise Of Asian Americans.”
It clearly gave the impression that racial discrimination has been largely eliminated, here, and that Black folks and other people of color can “make it” in America, if they would simply, like the Asians, keep their heads down, work hard, get a good education, and stay married to the same spouse — for life.
Sometimes, I think I’m a little too sensitive about media portrayals of Black people.
As a professional communicator, I tend to think that there are virtually no written or spoken words that are disseminated without some kind of agenda. I also tend not to believe that statements that discredit, or give insufficient credit to, Black people are made innocently — by educators, institutions, for-profit entities or elected officials.
For example, I can’t help thinking that the good people at Pew are becoming a whole lot more positively disposed toward, and respectful to, Asian Americans, in the wake of China’s recent emergence as an undisputed, dominant, world economic power. I wonder if the people at Pew Research can spell the word “pandering?”
All of that apparent “sucking up” to the Chinese government aside, I do believe that one of the most effective ways to disarm, marginalize and defeat a group of people is to have them, through a communications agenda, lose their self-respect, believe they are “lesser than,” or inherently inferior.
As I read the “Rise of Asian Americans” report, I couldn’t help thinking that Pew was trying to tell me and the other 40 million Black people in this country that our time was up, that our day had passed, and that we no longer deserved being a leading topic in national discussions about “minorities.”
I thought the report was blatantly transparent and, in critically important areas, simply inaccurate. The more I read it, the more incensed I became. Not at Asians, but at the agenda-setting machinations of the Pew Research Center.
For a while, I thought it was just me.
Then, lo and behold, I had the good fortune to read a story in the Hartford Guardian, by Julianne Hing, that informed its readers that a great number of Asian Americans, including the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (AACAJ), also were highly perturbed by Pew’s glowing “Ain’t Asians special?” report.
In fact, the AACAJ, in its response to Pew’s “Asian Survey,” said, “We are deeply concerned by how findings from a recent study by the Pew Research Center has been used to portray Asian Americans.”
Other Asian-American critics, in the same story, said the Pew report mixed “some facts with too much mythology about what people imagine Asians to be.”
Disputing Pew’s simplistic categorization of Asians as, among other things, the country’s most well-educated immigrant group, the Harford Guardian’s Ms. Hing, pointed to 2010 Census data that indicated that more than a third of all Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian Americans over the age of 25 lack a high school diploma. She went on to refer to other Census data that made it clear that “While some Asians may report incomes at, or higher than, whites, Cambodian and Laotian Americans report poverty rates as high or higher than the federal poverty level of African Americans.”
Like me, many other Asian Americans also were especially “ticked off” by the way in which major, mainstream media outlets carried, and aggressively promoted, the story without questioning, at all, Pew’s research methodology or conclusions. They were specifically critical of the glowing Wall Street Journal headline: “Asians Top Immigrant Class” and the one by the San Francisco Chronicle that trumpeted: “Group has Highest Income, Is Better Educated and Happier.”
I was pleasantly surprised to note that Asian American leaders, commenting on the tone of Pew’s “survey,” did not appear to be mis-led at all, by its obvious, clumsy, divisive, agenda. “There’s this aspect of the media coverage where races are being played against each other,” said Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. “The not so implicit message is … ‘why can’t all people of color be like us?’
“The danger in framing the study the way Pew did, and the way the media picked up on it, is that folks who are in the general public and institutional stakeholders and policy makers might get the impression that they don’t necessarily need to dig deep into our communities to understand that any sort of disparity exists.”
Those responses from the Asian community restored my confidence that communities of color across the country, in their own discrete towns and cities, can recognize and fight effectively against media agenda-setting, when necessary. I’m also more convinced, now, that they can work, collectively, among themselves, and with conscientious members of the larger society, to address important, shared, social and economic concerns.
Not only Pew, but the 2012 presidential candidates should understand what just transpired, in the wake of the “Rising” survey results. As an example, the two, major, political parties both appear to be obsessed, now, with establishing which group will be branded as the “best friend” of the Hispanic community.
I trust that Latinos, many of whom are, themselves, racially Black, together with non-Hispanic Blacks, in this country can see through the blatant political smoke screens and not allow themselves to be played against one another. I hope they will demonstrate the same clear thinking as the Asian groups cited in the Hartford Guardian’s piece. If so, the attempts to attain racial/ethnic “carve-outs,” at the expense of other deserving groups, may very well backfire. I hope so.
I think the Pew Research powerhouse shows its heavy hand when it spoon-feeds media outlets surveys of Asian immigrants, and when it establishes, as it did in 2001, the Pew Hispanic Center, supplying journalists with “fresh” data on Latino immigrants, all the while avoiding any similar, regularly scheduled information about African immigrants.
Is it because the U.S. is not interested, at all, in winning political support from African nations?
Given that there are approximately one billion people on the African continent, alone, representing about 15 percent of the world’s population, shouldn’t Pew be interested in knowing why, for example, only 3.7 percent of all foreign-born immigrants in this country are African? Shouldn’t they want to factor into their reports about Asian immigrants a reminder that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 specifically suspended Chinese immigration into this country for 10 years, and that the suspension was renewed “indefinitely,” in 1902, and was in effect, right up until 1943, when it was repealed and replaced with a quota of 105 Chinese immigrants, per year? Wouldn’t it be enlightening to have Pew put our African immigration counts into the context of the fact that, over the past 45 years, only 3.3 percent of all U.S. Immigrants have been foreign-born Africans?
Shouldn’t Pew want to explore, contrary to their recent report, why the most well-educated, foreign-born immigrants in this country happen to be Africans, and why, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 48.9 percent of all African immigrants have earned a college degree, “slightly higher than the percentage of degrees Asian immigrants, twice the rate of native-born whites, and four times the rate of native-born African Americans?”
To help them to understand, and to communicate, how these talented African immigrants can be more effectively incorporated into U.S. society, and into the overall U.S. economy, perhaps Pew should explore initiating an “African Research Center,” in the same way it maintains a Hispanic Center.
I don’t know, it seems to make a lot of sense to me.
But, then again, maybe the researchers simply have a different agenda.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.