Still the Other? What the American General Population Thinks of You

April 30, 2009

The Committee of 100 recently published its survey, titled Still the Other?, to understand views of Chinese Americans and Asian Americans among America's general population. I'll get to the punchline first, which is that significant racial attitudes and suspicions still exist. Some highlights are that most Americans still don't distinguish between Asians or Asian Americans, and see us all as one big homogeneous group, or as not American. I suspect Congresswoman Brown (R-Tex) shares this viewpoint, considering that she refers to Asian Americans as "you and your citizens." 

What is alarming to me, is that half of the general population thinks Asian Americans are more loyal to their countries of heritage than to America (somewhere, the 442nd are rolling around in their graves). The percentage of Americans who share that view actually went up since 2001 (making me fearful of future Wen Ho Lee witch hunts). Related to this, is that your average American thinks there are way more Asians in America than are actually here, underestimate how many Asian Americans are American-born, and harbor distrustful views toward Chinese Americans that are on par with current suspicions of Arab Americans.

It's not all bad. The committee also did a similar study back in 2001, and there have been some interesting, positive trends since then:
- In 2001, about one-fourth of the general population would neither vote for an Asian American presidential candidate nor accept an Asian American into their families by marriage. Only half thought Asian immigrants were positive for America, and half thought Chinese Americans contributed to American culture.
- In 2009, about one-tenth of Americans would neither vote for an Asian American presidential candidate nor accept an Asian American into their families by marriage. About seven in ten thought Asian immigrants were positive for America, and seven in ten thought Chinese Americans contributed to American culture.

The views of Chinese Americans themselves are also interesting, but mostly negative. Four in five Chinese Americans think they have little political power in Washington, less than one third believe they are promoted as much as their white counterparts, and less than one fourth believe they are adequately represented on corporate boards. An alarmingly high proportion reported experiencing racism or discrimination.

I believe some of these attitudes among the general population are influenced by mainstream news articles and media images. This may be the case especially for those who have no personal interactions or experiences with Asians or Asian Americans. This year's survey actually identified that individuals who harbor the most negative or racist viewpoints toward Chinese Americans are those who:
(1) are more likely to perceive China as a high future threat to the U.S.,
(2) had a less favorable impression of China after Beijing hosted the Olympics,
(3) hold an unfavorable view toward people in China, and
(4) have never traveled to China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.

Because the average American's current views of Chinese Americans and Asian Americans are so closely tied to American news and media perspectives about China, and since there is much more China-related mainstream news than there is Asian American-related news, I think it's worth looking at the negative Chinese press in America. The Pentagon and media paint China as a military, economic, and health threat. I believe a lot of the negative press and sentiment comes down to PR (public relations). I was at a business conference a few months ago, where a prominent (white American) marketing guru remarked during a panel that China was the only nation in Washington that did not employ a professional PR firm there. He went on to speculate that much of the negative mainstream China news was related to not having any PR or lobbyist firm in Washington on China's behalf. He explained that China's leaders did not understand how PR and news shaped sentiment, and did not understand why it was important for them to manage American sentiment about China. I think that in a round-about way, Chinese Americans would enjoy improved attitudes toward them if China were to use a PR firm in Washington, the same way every other country does there (like Russia or Israel).


Alvin Lin


Alvin Lin was born in Taipei, Taiwan and hails from New England. He blogs about Asian American pop culture, film, music, literature and politics, as well as relevant news around the world. He also writes for Imprint Talk. Alvin has degrees from Cornell and MIT.



The "general American population" is composed of American supremacists and has always been.Worrying about what these Good Americans think is like worrying about what the Good Germans thought.Their opinion has no moral legitimacy.Similar to how Islam and Arabs have become the Green Peril in the American mindset, that China is increasingly becoming the Yellow Peril in the American mind is not surprising.Americanism is *intrinsically* based upon hatred of some racial/ethnic/religious Other--whether that be immigrants, racial minorities, non-Christian religions, or other countries.That's what the American Way is really about, beneath all the propaganda about "teaching tolerance" or celebratin' diversity.And this won't change through better public relations firms or pandering to these Good Americans.It will only change through political confrontation and rebellion against these people and their institutions.
That is very interesting, I had no idea they did not employ a PR firm. It certainly explains a lot.
had a less favorable impression of China after Beijing hosted the Olympicsreally? but the olympics were so fresh! the show they put on was way better than any show the american government has ever put on.
Wow, countries use PR firms? I mean, of course they do. But it never occurred to me that they did.