Asian-Americans don’t expect much coverage in the mainstream media, but recent Globe stories from its poll on politics and race relations left me scratching my head.
In reporting the results, the Globe left the impression that the only minorities in Boston worthy of ink were blacks and Hispanics. There was no mention that Asian-Americans were part of the survey done with Suffolk University (they were) and no explanation on why the paper did not share those results (more on this later).
“Normally, it’s black, white, Latino and other. We don’t even get an ‘other’ designation on this one,” said Leverett Wing, an Asian-American political activist and executive director of Commonwealth Seminar, a program that trains diverse leaders about politics. “What is up with that?”
Boston City Council president Michelle Wu said the omission speaks volumes about where we are as a city are when it comes to talking about race.
“We’re a multicultural city and our efforts to eliminate racism are hampered when we have conversations that don’t include everyone,” said Wu, the first Asian-American to lead the council.
Editors tell me the oversight was not intentional, and I can understand how it happened. In a survey of 500 registered voters in Boston, Suffolk pollster David Paleologos interviewed 33 Asian-Americans, a figure that reflects the expected percentage of Asian-American voters in the September primary.
The margin of error on such a small sample is plus or minus 17 percentage points compared with 4.4 percentage points for the survey overall. The margin of error among black and Hispanic respondents was 9 percentage points.
I wouldn’t be writing this column had the Globe inserted a couple of sentences explaining that Asian-Americans participated in the poll, but the sample size wasn’t big enough to draw conclusions from. Not to acknowledge that Asian-Americans were surveyed renders us invisible, leaves our views unrecorded, and risks perpetuating the stereotype of Asian-Americans as a model minority immune to discrimination.
For the record, here’s what the Suffolk University/Boston Globe polling on race found: 57 percent of those who identify as black said the city is racist, compared with 37 percent of those who call themselves white. Hispanics fell in the middle, with 44 percent believing their hometown is racist.
You may think I’m just being overly sensitive because I’m Asian-American. Think again. Asian-Americans are the fastest growing minority group in Massachusetts as well as in this country. In Massachusetts, there are about 400,000 Asian-Americans, a figure that rivals the black population of about 479,000, according to census data.
In Boston, there are far more blacks and Hispanics than Asian-Americans, but they still represent 9 percent of the city’s population — a number that should be too large to ignore.
On top of that, never before have so many Asian-Americans held prominent positions in Boston: Wu on the City Council; Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang; Dan Koh, who is chief of staff to Mayor Marty Walsh; Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang; and Bunker Hill Community College president Pam Eddinger.
Paleologos, the Suffolk pollster, said the best way to gauge Asian-American attitudes on a variety of issues would be to conduct a separate poll because that would ensure enough responses.
Capturing the sentiment of Asian-American voters is a problem that also plagues other polls and the media’s political coverage. Like the Suffolk/Globe poll, others do not break out Asian-Americans as a group, or do not print their responses because the sample size is too small.
So do we know anything about what Asian-Americans think about politics?
At least on the national level, we know something, thanks to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has conducted exit polls of Asian-Americans at presidential, midterm, and local elections since 1988.
The civil rights group has conducted the poll to fill the media’s void. This is what its 2016 survey of 13,846 Asian-American voters found: 79 percent of Asian-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and 18 percent for Donald Trump. More than three-quarters of Asian-Americans support stricter gun control, and half do not believe police treat racial and ethnic groups equally. About two-thirds of Asian-Americans support immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
What the results also tell me is that Asian-Americans have a lot to say. In 2017, pollsters and the media can no longer just view race through the prism of white, black, and Hispanic.
If we want race relations to improve in this city and elsewhere, we have to bring everyone along.