Asian Americans: Yes, we're slackers. No, it's not a good thing.

Guest Post by Karthick Ramakrishnan

Hey, folks! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed blog break. Some batteries need recharging. But don't worry -- I've enlisted the generous help of some great guest bloggers to keep things fresh around here while I'm gone. Here's Karthick Ramakrishnan on the dangers of Asian American slackerdom.

First, let me clarify that I'm not against all slackerdom. The model minority myth continues to have a powerful hold on our society, and it doesn't help when news organizations and research institutes continue to perpetuate them. And slacker exemplars like Harold and Kumar have single (double?) handedly taken down the myth by a few notches. And that's a good thing. There's very little good that comes out of seeing all of us as monolithic, hyper-ambitious, over-achieving, over-qualified. I get it.

But the slackerdom I am talking about today is of a different kind, which is our community's pitifully low level of engagement in community life and politics. Take the 2012 election, for example. Sure, we had a lot of organizations trying to get people energized and more involved, including 18 Million Rising, APIA Vote, Advancing Justice, AALDEF, and many others. They worked their collective butts off in getting our community more involved.

And what do we have to show for it? Less than half of our community showed up to vote on Election Day. That's 47%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some might say, that's because many of us aren't citizens. But this is 47% of adult citizens. That compares to 64% of whites and 66% of African American adult citizens who voted in 2012.

2012 was not an exceptional year. I've been looking at Asian American voting ever since graduate school, and have written a couple of books on it. In every year since 1992, whether it be a presidential election or a midterm election, Asian Americans have under-participated when it comes to voting. We are also less likely to get in touch with elected officials about issues that concern us (for example, this was true for 9% of Asian Americans in 2008 versus 21% of whites). And this means that when members of Congress, or people in our state legislatures are debating whether to cut government programs or restrict abortion rights, they are less likely to hear from us than from other groups. We are under-represented—no doubt about it—and it's mostly our fault.

Now, we can point to some very relevant points, like the fact that Asian Americans are the most heavily immigrant, that it takes a generation for people to get fully adjusted, that many of us are desperately trying to make ends meet.

But the problem is: participation rates are low even among those of us who are native-born, those who are fully proficient in English, those who are college-educated and those who are relatively well off. And, even more concerning, participation is low not just in terms of things like voting, but even something as basic as getting involved to solve community problems.

In fact, past research shows that getting involved in our communities is one of the sure-fire ways of getting more empowered. It can be any kind of civic involvement: volunteering in a sports league, participating in the PTA, putting on a cultural show, or helping out on a particular issue campaign. But the key is that we have to step up our involvement. And, soon enough, we'll be voting and giving an earful to our elected representatives.

Being slackers on civic participation is not a good thing. It means that we will play a diminished role in the governance of our country and community. There are many Asian Americans, from members of Congress all the way down to our local volunteers, who are helping to make sure that our voices are heard.

We all need to step up now, and do our part.

Karthick Ramakrishnan is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. He has written extensively on the politics of race, immigration, and ethnicity in the United States. Karthick directs the National Asian American Survey and is building a new data portal on AAPI Data. Follow him on Twitter @karthickr.

angry archive