The complexion of the United States has shifted over the last few decades, and the future will demonstrate an even more varied set of racial and ethnic demographics. Little wonder why there is a rabid response of racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigration rhetoric from the Republican Party—which we might as well call “The White People Party,” since, according to Gallup “non-Hispanic whites accounted for 89% of Republican self-identifiers nationwide in 2012.” From my perspective they are no different from the White Citizens’ Councils of the past, who were the public face of the Klan.
This shift presents a challenge, and not just to white Americans. It also highlights inter-ethnic positions and tensions. Let’s not fool ourselves: Developing fusion politics with whites and erasing friction between and among peoples of color is a challenge. We can look to movements like Moral Mondays in North Carolina for an example of how fusion is being put into practice outside of the electoral realm.
We’ve seen some of the obstacles play out during this Democratic primary season, which Issac J. Bailey explores in “How Bernie Sanders Exposed the Democrats’ Racial Rift.” He writes:
Barring an asteroid strike that extinguishes life on Earth, the American electorate will be much more diverse in coming elections than it is today, especially the portion of it that Democrats plan to rely on. There are now more non-white than white babies being born every year, and the under-18 crowd is close to reaching majority-minority status as well. That’s the Democrats’ greatest potential strength, which grows only more pronounced the closer Trump comes to being officially named the GOP nominee.
No longer is it a given that straight white males will be always be the defining force in Democratic party national or local elections. For us, fusion is our future. Failure to accept, acknowledge, embrace, and work toward that future will set us back. It will play into the racist, sexist, regressive Republican agenda that’s espoused by not only Donald Trump, but also co-signed and reinforced by right-wing elected officials in Congress and Republican-leaning independent voters.
I’ve spent much of my life working to build bridges from my black community center to Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and white folks. Growing up in a multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious family, living in diverse neighborhoods, and attending well-integrated schools aided me in that process. None of these groups are a monolith, and the intersections also include other subsets of gender and gender identity. My family, fictive kin, and friends are straight and LGBTQ. There are often rough edges between and among the various groupings, and it takes time and patience to navigate the margins and to confront my own internalized prejudices and those of others I care for.
What becomes difficult—for me—is expressing what seems patently obvious from my perspective to others in the left/progressive/liberal communities that comprise our part of the electorate. Too often some have dismissed the discussion of race/ethnicity/gender as simply “identity politics,” or—even worse—“pandering” by those running for office. Politicians get elected and stay in office by appealing to constituencies. For Democrats, those constituencies include people of color, women, the LGBT community, and the issues of key importance to those of us in these subsets. The Democratic “base” and who comprises it has been clearly demonstrated during this primary season. The Obama coalition which worked and is continuing to work for Sec. Clinton needs to be built upon and strengthened, not summarily dismissed. But attempts to have discussion about privilege are often met with derailing efforts, if not outright hostility and defensiveness from some folks on “the left.”
Apropos to this, Bailey writes:
The racial blind spots evident among otherwise perceptive pundits and Democratic officials reminds me of the “Friends” era. That comedy dominated TV, fueled mostly by white viewers, while one of the top shows among black viewers at the same time was “Girlfriends” on BET. White viewers could list the quirks of Elaine and George on “Seinfeld” in rapid fire succession as black viewers wondered about the latest shenanigans of Cole and Bruh Man on “Martin.” Neither group knew much about popular telenovelas on Univision or noticed the lack of Asian-American leads on the highest-rated network shows.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found that roughly 68 percent of young white people socialize with mostly or only white people while about two-thirds of young blacks and Latinos report they have a more diverse set of friends and acquaintances. But a fragmented viewership framed by racial divides is less concerning than is a fragmented vision within a major political party.
Obama saved the party from having to cope with that reality in 2008 because his liberalism was more liberal than Clinton’s, at least it was perceived to be. That attracted young white voters, as Sanders is doing this year. But he also had minority voters excited. Clinton, for all of her supposed faults, has run a campaign so tactically effective she has been able to pull together a coalition similar to Obama’s. This may be even more impressive than what Obama accomplished given that she is the ultimate insider in an anti-establishment year. The things that have convinced white progressives, and a handful of high-profile black intellectuals and personalities, that she isn’t worthy of the nomination have not turned off minority voters, young or old.
What he wrote made me examine some of my own blind spots. Though I do watch Univision and read Spanish-language newspapers, I have not spent much time or thought on the Asian-American electorate. Asian Americans are our fastest growing population, and the category spans multiple ethnic and ancestry groups, with a host of different languages and religions.
I am familiar with the linked Pew Research data but recently discovered this report, titled “Inclusion, Not Exclusion=—Spring 2016 Asian American Voter Survey.”
Understanding the opinions, priorities, and positions of Asian American voters is critical for us to not only better understand what our communities care about, but to also better amplify these opinions and priorities to those that shape policies and make decisions that affect all of us.
This is a report of Asian American registered voters, conducted in conjunction with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and AAPI Data. This report presents the results of interviews conducted by telephone from April 11 to May 17, 2016, of 1,212 registered voters who identify as Asian American, producing an overall margin of sampling error of +/- 3%. Sampling was targeted towards the six largest national origin groups that together account for more than 75% of the Asian American adult citizen population. Interviews were conducted in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese, and included landlines and mobile phones.
Key highlights from the full report:
- Asian Americans are shifting in party identification towards the Democratic Party, and exclusionary rhetoric is a likely cause
- Hillary Clinton has the most net favorability, while Trump is viewed very unfavorably
- Ethnic media is an important source of political information, especially for Chinese American and Vietnamese American voters
- Young Asian Americans (ages 18 to 34) are a key demographic to watch
- Asian Americans tend to favor the Democratic Party on many key issues
- Overall, voter enthusiasm is significantly higher than in 2014.
You can listen to a webinar exploring the data in the report. Coming up in August is an important Asian-American event, where a historic coalition of Asian-American/Pacific Islander organizations will host a presidential town hall in Las Vegas.
In the midst of a tumultuous election cycle, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander professionals from across the nation will converge in Las Vegas this summer, creating an epicenter of media, politics and diversity. This gathering will be the largest of its kind, culminating in a Town Hall event with the invited 2016 presidential candidates. The event – hosted by the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), in partnership with the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) and over 20 professional and community organizations – will take place during the AAJA national convention, scheduled for August 10 – 13 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
APIAVote is a national nonpartisan organization that works with community partners to mobilize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation. The group has also been working with the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee to hold this discussion between the presidential candidates and the public. “We are excited to host the candidates and see how they will address the issues that are important to the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community,” said AAJA Executive Director Kathy Chow.
The estimated attendance for the Town Hall is more than 3,000 journalists, executives, professionals and small business owners. Attendees can also participate in community plenaries, which will focus on topical issues affecting the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. These include discussions around economic and health disparities, the intersection of government and tech and, of course, diversity in politics.
There are some hopeful signs: Kamala Harris, who is running for a seat in the Senate from California, is South Asian and African-American. Tammy Duckworth, Democratic candidate for the Senate in Illinois, was born in Thailand.
The Obama White House has been paying attention. In 2009 President Obama “signed an executive order that restores the White House Initiative and President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to address issues concerning the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.”
On the subject of Latinos, there is still a major blind spot on the white left, and also on the part of a chunk of the black Democratic Party base. While I read blog post after blog post and numerous pundit pieces touting the VP candidacy of Elizabeth Warren, I don’t see how her possible selection could do anything to broaden and enhance a fusion future. She has no long-term ties to the diverse communities of color that make up a large segment of the Democratic base, has a narrow focus on issues that are similar to those of Bernie Sanders, and she doesn’t represent the regiona where the largest segment of the black and Latino electorate is located. That Latino electorate is one of the keys to our future.
We live in a hemisphere dominated by Spanish speakers. According to Pew, there are 37 million Spanish speakers in the U.S.
With more than 37 million speakers, Spanish is by far the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. today among people ages 5 and older. It is also one of the fastest-growing, with the number of speakers up 233% since 1980, when there were 11 million Spanish speakers. (The number of Vietnamese speakers grew faster, up 599% over the same period).
As Spanish use has grown, driven primarily by Hispanic immigration and population growth, it has become a part of many aspects of life in the U.S. For example, Spanish is spoken by more non-Hispanics in U.S. homes than any other non-English language and Spanish language television networks frequently beat their English counterparts in television ratings.
We have a blowhard bigot whose goal is a Republican presidency, alienating Latinos daily with his talk of walls and deportations. But that does not guarantee that the Latino electorate is a shoo-in for Democrats.
Bailey states this bluntly:
To minority voters, Trump’s candidacy feels like an existential threat. It’s one thing for Republicans to either ignore or embrace his racism; the party already seems unwilling or incapable of making the kinds of adjustments it must to attract more non-white voters. It’s quite another for white Democrats to not appreciate how liberal minorities feel about the possibility of a Trump presidency and what that would say about the state of racial progress in America. It would be a slap in the face, the latest sign that a kind of white privilege—throwing a temper tantrum because they don’t get their way despite how much it hurts people of color—is deeply rooted within liberal, Democratic ranks as well.
When are we going to elevate a Latino to national status? President Obama’s appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was a major first step, but there doesn’t appear to be much interest from the left in potential VP picks like Xavier Becerra, Tom Perez, or Julián Castro. (yes, I’m aware that Markos isn’t a fan of a hypothetical Castro selection).
This indicates a major fault line in our party politics. We know that Latino turnout is below par, so what do we plan to do to mobilize and enthuse our largest potential constituency consisting of people of color?
Latinos have a strong interest in issues of education, the economy, health care, and immigration reform—as do Asian-Americans. The black electorate in the U.S. is shifting too, with increasing immigration from Africa and the Caribbean.
A record 3.8 million black immigrants live in the United States today, more than four times the number in 1980, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Black immigrants now account for 8.7% of the nation’s black population, nearly triple their share in 1980. Rapid growth in the black immigrant population is expected to continue. The Census Bureau projects that by 2060, 16.5% of U.S. blacks will be immigrants.1 In certain metropolitan areas, foreign-born blacks make up a significant share of the overall black population. For example, among the metropolitan areas with the largest black populations, roughly a third of blacks (34%) living in the Miami metro area are immigrants. In the New York metro area, that share is 28%. And in the Washington, D.C., area, it is 15%
In these data we can find keys to building stronger coalitions between and among the various communities of color who can become our path to a Democratic future. We are already a major part of the base. President Obama lost the white vote in both his elections, and Democrats have been doing so for decades.
So do we spend time chasing the elusive lost-to-Republicans white voter—or do we embrace and work for a multi-hued Democratic future?
I choose the rainbow.