Asian Representation in Democracy
Art by Marián Palacios Fernanández
An uptick of prejudice against the Asian community at large in recent months, both in the United States and beyond, can be accredited to a number of factors, with the COVID-19 pandemic chief among them. However, a racial bias has been held against the people of Earth’s largest continent far prior to the year 2020. College admission lists are one of the many sources cited in discrimination cases, with concerning patterns in the acceptance of Asian minorities. However, with a ‘representative’ legislature, Americans need not look any further than the United States Congress for evidence of a basic absence of racial equity at the governmental level.
It is important to note that all minority races, not just those with a cultural background originating from Asia, face a lack of representation in American democracy. However, a massive focus shift edged towards Asian Americans in the 2020 election cycle, as the group made massive strides while running for public office. For example, the massive field of Democratic Presidential candidates contained three high-profile Asian-Americans. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang gained a large following of young progressives, at times taking in millions of small-dollar donations to fund his campaign. Yang’s ideas, such as a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 per month to every American adult, were some of the most ambitious of the cycle. In fact, this Freedom Dividend proposal contrasted fascinatingly with the one-time COVID-19 stimulus package proposed by the United States Congress. Another long-shot bid was that of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who was the third-to-last candidate to drop out of the crowded field. Gabbard consistently polled far behind the frontrunners, and drew criticism for her actions on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, voting ‘present’’ instead of ‘yea,’ as the majority of other Democrats did. However, arguably the most successful Asian candidate for the Presidency having been considered one of the race’s frontrunners in 2019, was Kamala Harris. As the first, and currently only, Indian-American to be elected to the Senate, Harris raked in huge financial hauls for her campaign’s war chest from grassroots fundraising, and saw a surge in polling after the first Democratic Presidential debate. Although the Harris campaign ended before the first votes were cast in the nomination process, she has made history as the first woman of color and first Asian woman to appear on a Presidential ballot, as the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee.
Unfortunately, the issue of inaccurate representation of Asian-Americans in the United States government is not solved by the unsuccessful Presidential bids of three candidates. Asians comprise 6% of the United States population, and only 3% of Senators and Representatives are Asian. Should Kamala Harris be elected Vice-President, the number of Asians in the Senate would drop to two. In government, there is a fine line between tokenism and representation, and the appointment of a handful of Asian-Americans to cabinet positions simply is not enough to bridge the gap. There is not a single Asian governor, nor has an Asian ever sat upon the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, these figures should hardly come as a surprise to Americans. Increasing, statements have surfaced claiming that Asians are no longer an oppressed group, with a median income even higher than Caucasians. The main issue with these allegations is the illegitimacy of an economically-based argument. For other marginalized populations with a median income less than that of the average American, income and business opportunities are certainly symptoms of a greater issue. However, higher annual salaries cannot be used to justify other forms of oppression. For example, instances of discrimination against Asians in the workplace or other settings cannot be dismissed simply because of the median income of Asian-Americans. Furthermore, Asians are not a monolith when it comes to socio-economic status. Indonesian-Americans, Burmese-Americans, and many other groups of Asian-Americans still face heavy economic disparities. Therefore, it remains obvious that Asians continue to face many societal hardships.
Though not a long-term solution, this situation may improve with equal representation by race in the United States legislature. The country has gone years without a significant uptick of Asian participation in Congress, and 2020 is unlikely to be the year that changes that. Although there is a chance of an Asian Vice President and the possible addition of one Asian senator (Sara Gideon of Maine), this issue can no longer be pushed aside. A democracy cannot function without equal representation.
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