Woke Asian American Elites Do Not Speak for All Asian Americans | Opinion

The rising tide of crimes against Asian Americans has motivated many to engage in political activism. However, politically active Asian Americans have bifurcated into two camps: woke elites and everyone else.

Asian Americans as a group are known for their economic success. According to Pew Research, Asian-American households' median annual income was $73,060 in 2015, significantly higher than the median annual income of $53,600 for all U.S. households. However, behind this impressive median income figure are wide wealth gaps between different Asian-American subgroups.

The term "Asian American" lumps together a diverse group of people from, or with ancestors from, more than 19 different countries. According to Pew, many subgroups of Asian Americans had median household incomes below the national median. Among all the subgroups, Burmese Americans had the lowest median income of $36,000. The poverty rates for Bhutanese Americans (33.3 percent) and Burmese Americans (35 percent) exceeded the national poverty rate of 15.1 percent.

Although the Asian-American electorate is diverse, it has solidly supported Democrats and their policies for decades—with the exception of Vietnamese Americans, who have given steadfast support to the Republican Party because of their shared abhorrence towards communism.

In recent years, however, and mirroring the rest of the country, the Asian-American community has become politically divided on several key issues including education, race relations and law and order. Well-educated, financially well-to-do Asian-American elites have embraced and endorsed the radical Left's policies and rhetoric based on critical race theory, which claims all people of color are victims of white oppression. In the meantime, working-class Asian Americans are beginning to push back against such rhetoric and policies.

Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) illustrated this divide when he screamed at Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, during a recent House Judiciary hearing about diversity on the federal bench. Congressman Lieu demanded to know why there aren't enough Asian American federal judges. Kirsanow brought up Harvard University's discrimination against qualified Asian-American students. Lieu quickly silenced him by shouting, "Stop bringing in irrelevant issues; there are more Asian Americans at these Ivy Leagues than in the federal judiciary." However, what Kirsanow brought up was, in fact, relevant to Lieu's question. Elite schools such as Harvard and Yale are the main pipelines to the federal judiciary. When these schools discriminate against qualified Asian American students, fewer will become federal judges in the future.

Congressman Lieu's own American dream was the result of an elite education. Born in Taiwan, Lieu immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. He got his bachelor's degree from Stanford and earned his law degree from Georgetown. While his own life was clearly set on a path to success from an early age, Congressman Lieu doesn't seem to realize that for many poor Asian American families, education is the only path for their children to find similar success.

Congressman Lieu's refusal to even acknowledge elite colleges' discrimination against qualified Asian students shows how out of touch with the Asian-American community he has become. In recent years, most Asian Americans' political activism has been driven by education—or more accurately, by their fear that Asian students could lose equal access to quality education. In New York City, Asian Americans led a successful campaign to push back Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to end the Specialized High School Admissions Test for the city's elite public high schools. In Washington state, Asian Americans helped defeat a 2019 ballot measure attempting to restore racial discrimination in public college admissions.

In Lieu's own state, Asian Americans vanquished a 2020 ballot measure, Proposition 16, which sought to restore race-based discrimination in higher education and public employment in California. Supporters of Prop 16 raised $27 million and had backing from Silicon Valley, Democratic state legislators and congressional representatives, including Lieu. Asian Americans who opposed Prop 16 raised only $1.7 million. According to one of the campaign's leaders, Wenyuan Wu, most of the funding "came from 7,000 Chinese-American donors of modest means." In the end, however, these Asian Americans of modest means defeated their powerful and well-funded opposition.

Stop Asian Hate Protest
Across the country, people are protesting the rise in hate crimes against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Besides education, the responses to the increased attacks on Asian Americans have shown the political divide between woke Asian American elites and everyone else in the community.

The majority of the recent attacks took place in some of the most progressive cities in America, such as New York, San Francisco and Oakland. Non-white perpetrators committed most of the crimes. Most of the victims were either elders, small business owners or working-class Asian Americans who work or live in some of America's most dangerous neighborhoods.

However, the facts on the ground haven't prevented woke Asian American elites from blaming the anti-Asian crimes on "white supremacy."

After a black man brutally attacked an elderly Asian woman in New York City, Eugene Gu—a medical doctor who used to work for Vanderbilt University Medical Center—tweeted, "Black on Asian crimes only occur because of our system of white supremacy that strips African Americans of their economic opportunities while taking respect and dignity away from Asian Americans."

Jennifer Ho, a professor who teaches Asian studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, wrote, "when a Black person attacks an Asian person, the encounter is fueled perhaps by racism, but very specifically by white supremacy. White supremacy does not require a white person to perpetuate it."

However, by implying that blacks and Asian Americans have no agency of their own, Dr. Gu and Professor Ho stripped away their decision-making ability, and ended up endorsing and promoting the very white supremacy they sought to condemn.

The real harm of blaming every race-related crime on white supremacy is that left-wing activists and politicians use it to justify doubling down on policies that aim for social justice instead of allocating resources to reduce crimes. As a result, the streets and communities where less wealthy Asian Americans live and work will only become more dangerous.

It is already happening in California. The San Francisco Chronicle reported at least 32 Asians have been assaulted or robbed in the Bay Area since the beginning of 2021. However, the Democratic-led California legislature is working on SB-82, a bill that seeks to decriminalize robbery from a felony to a misdemeanor, which will result in reduced fines and lighter sentences for those who commit the crime, all in the name of social justice.

Calling these political leaders "tone deaf," outraged working-class Asian Americans, Asian small business owners and the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce staged a protest against SB-82, urging the Democrat-led legislature not to reward those who commit crimes while punishing victims.

The political divide within the Asian-American community has shown that elites do not speak for all Asian Americans. We cannot let a privileged few advance radical, divisive woke agendas at the expense of our community's safety and security. More Asian Americans need to become politically engaged and reclaim the issues that matter to them, their families and their communities.

Helen Raleigh, CFA, is an American entrepreneur, writer and speaker. Helen is the author of Backlash: How China's Aggression Has Backfired and Confucius Never Said. Follow her on Twitter: @HRaleighspeaks and visit her website: www.helenraleighspeaks.com.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.