It seems obvious that greater electoral numbers for AAPIs should yield concomitant greater political power for our community. America is a representative democracy, wherein constituents are promised a seat at the table by a simple sociopolitical contract: our votes are offered to politicians as a quid pro quo promise of beneficial policy changes. More votes might therefore be assumed to invite better policies. Indeed, some AAPI groups – most notably 80-20 — deploy such thinking as rationale for their mission to create a national AAPI voting bloc comprising 80% or more of all voting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the group’s leaders seek to leverage that bloc for or against specific candidates.
But what if this thinking is flawed; or, at least, incomplete? What if sheer voting numbers do not alone guarantee greater political power for voters on the fringes of American politics? How do AAPI voters, and other voters of colour, build political power when we must cast our votes in a system structurally resistant to prioritizing issues of race and racism?
I was having dinner earlier this week with a member of my extended family when the topic of race-conscious affirmative action and SCA-5 came up. My family member (who is not Asian American) was surprised to learn that I support affirmative action; he was under the impression that all Asian Americans were monolithically opposed to race-conscious admissions considerations. “What?” he asked, somewhat teasingly, “don’t you want Asians to be able to get into college?”
All this aside, there is a persistent myth within the American political landscape that Asian Americans are universally opposed to affirmative action. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the affirmative action issue is one that highlights the diversity in Asian American political thought.