The Pew Research Center has released a study on what it calls the Asian American “racial group”. Pew is pretty good at capturing social trends in what amounts to real time, which is something akin to a fish not only knowing it is in water, but also knowing and understanding how the water is changing, and how those changes are affecting its society of fishes. Kudos to Pew. The study, a synopsis of which can be found here, is well worth perusing for anyone who is even marginally interested in mega social trends.
But. Presumably in order to communicate more effectively by using commonly-understood terms, and perhaps in order to compile statistics making for a more impactful report, Pew has lumped together in one “racial group” every immigrant to the US whose country of origin is on the Asian continent (except those parts that are considered European, Russian or Middle Eastern). Thus China, India, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and the Philippine Islands, et al, are all together as one monolithic Asian racial group. I would suggest to Pew that these disparate groups hardly consider themselves as one, and since self-identification is the sine qua non of group membership in either races or nations, the idea of one Asian racial group containing people from these various countries reveals more about indigenous American perspectives on racial grouping than it reflects the reality of how Asians actually perceive themselves. Here’s an example of how Pew parses and graphs the statistics:
It would seem more appropriate to say that some 4 million inhabitants of America consider themselves Chinese in origin, though are now in America, making the Chinese nationality a little over 1% of the aggregate American population, than to lump the Chinese in with all these disparate groups, especially the Indians, who not only look different, but also have a completely different culture and history that has had until recently only limited contact with China (given those really big mountains, the Himalayas, that form the boundary between them).
Now here’s perhaps a racist thing to say, but I will say it anyway: Asians–and I’m speaking in this instance of the racial group as Americans apparently perceive it and Pew communicates it–are some of the most racially aware, and therefore racist, people on the globe today. The average Chinese would no more consider cavorting with the average Korean or Japanese than either of them with him. And though the various Asian nationalities can somehow tell each other apart, for all practical purposes, all three would look identical to the average European or African. Admittedly the same could be said of the various nationalities/races within other broad racial categories. Europeans, for example, might be able to visually glean the differences between an Irishman and a Greek, but it’s doubtful an Asian or African would be able to grasp them.
(Anecdote: I vividly remember sitting on a bar stool in Honolulu in the mid-eighties, conversing with a Filipino fella who had happened in. I told him I was visiting for the week, trying to get my bearings, whereupon he set about helpfully explaining the various Asian races as people representing each walked through the entrance (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.), detailing their identifying visual and behavioral characteristics, and explaining that any one of them would know immediately, just by looking, of what race or nationality another of his Asian brethren were. By the time he got through, it almost felt like I had been in a scene from Star Wars, but one in which all the intergalactic creatures looked the same to me, and only they understood their differences.)
Race is today a highly suspect classification to use in delimiting various human groups. It is very difficult, except using visual cues, to formulate any rational basis for identifying people as belonging to any particular race, and visual cues alone are thin reeds upon which to float a biologically-relevant classification system. We know there are genetically-implicated differences among peoples (unless it could be imagined that the same genes providing for the dark skin and fuzzy, brittle hair of the prototypical African also provide for the blonde, straight hair and blue eyes of the prototypical Scandinavian, which, considering how variable gene expression can be, is perhaps not so outlandish, but that’s another post), but there is no DNA test that would conclusively reveal whether someone should be classified as African, Asian, European, or especially not to distinguish a Frenchman from a German or a Mandarin from a Japanese, etc., so there are no definitive genetic markers for race. While Europeans and Asians and Africans have no problem telling each other apart by visual cues, the visual differences seem now to be something like spandrels, left over from a time when isolated breeding populations had adapted to the environments in which they found themselves, resulting in what we call “races” today. But the differences no longer hold much relevance. Transportation and communication improvements have rendered the possibility of populations breeding in isolation in specific environments all but nil, and the adaptations that have resulted from such breeding in the past all but irrelevant.
Using nationality would seem an easier means of classifying immigrants, considering that nationality is more closely a matter of self-identification than is visual, and presumed, genetic similarity. But nationality is nearly as amorphous, mythological, and difficult to define as is race (as the previous post details). And because it is a matter of self-identification, a person may choose any number of national identities over the course of his lifetime, and may even claim more than one nationality at a time.
But the whole exercise of classifying people into races and nationalities is repugnant to the Declaration of Independence, the document containing the seminal expression of the ideas upon which the United States was founded, and perhaps some small reason these immigrants from the Asian continent chose to come to America. The right to pursue life, liberty and property were decreed by the Declaration, and later codified by the Constitution, to be individually-endowed rights, not rights that were delegated to the various Northern European races or nationalities that had colonized America, to be doled out to their sub-populations as they pleased. The Declaration and subsequent Constitution wiped the European slate clean. There would be no national identities, except that of American. But the individually-endowed rights didn’t apply to either the blacks who had been imported as slaves, or to the indigenous populations the colonists pushed aside in their expansion. The racist and nationalist instinct was alive and well in America, just not among and within the various populations of Europeans in the New World. Germans had to leave their German-ness in Germany when coming to America, but were allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to indulge their racist instincts when it came to black Africans or the native tribes found here. The sense of black and Native Americans as the “others” surely helped bring the American melting pot of European nationalities to a healthy simmer, so that differences were more readily dissolved in the stew.
But now the US has Balkanized itself. Instead of bringing blacks and all the “others” into the pot to be melted, in the manner that the Europeans were assimilated so many years ago, it has encouraged the resumption of national and racial identities, at least so far as populations that comprise electoral minorities are concerned. (This is not surprising, given the power that concentrated minority groups can yield in the democratic process). It doles out political and economic spoils according to racial and national membership, completely usurping the idea that all rights and responsibilities are endowed and assumed individually. The US, having leveraged its melted pot of people to become the richest and most powerful country in the world, has decided to spend a goodly portion of its power and riches to stop the natural progression of human history from which it has so handsomely profited. It now spends vast sums promoting the expression of racial and nationalistic differences, when the cycle of history–from hunter/gatherer clans to tribes to nations to empires–points in the direction of dissolving differences. Its actions seem very nearly suicidal so far as aggregate US welfare is concerned, but operate to enrich and empower a cadre of plutocrats who have a vested interest in expanding its program of balkanization (coming under the aegis of “diversity” or “affirmative action” or any other of a number of programs protecting, and therefore promoting, racial and national differences among Americans).
Thus the US (like Pew), formally and otherwise, lumps “Asians” together as a racial group, disregarding what the Asians actually think of themselves. In the meantime, Pew issues a study that might as well have been headlined, “Asian hordes pour over the borders,” pointing to their growing numbers and profound differentness. The Pew study noted that the median individual in this Asian racial group is smarter, richer, harder working and more studious than his American counterpart, which is not surprising. It takes some gumption and wherewithal to pick up stakes and journey half-way around the world. Since only a very small percentage of the originating Asian populations managed to complete the arduous journey, it can be reasonably assumed that it was mainly those in the higher echelons, i.e., those that were smarter, richer, harder-working and more studious, who were able to meet the challenge.
The US should welcome all comers with open arms, but not until it discards the silly idea of multiculturalism or diversity, and the programs of affirmative action that support it. The US should by now be expert at dissolving racial and national differences. By the time the Europeans were slaughtering each other again in World War Two, the peoples that had arrived here from every racial subgroup in Europe considered themselves simply American. If the dissolution of racial and national identities could be accomplished within a racial group as vast and cantankerous as the Europeans in just a couple of centuries time, surely the same could eventually be accomplished across racial groups like Asians, Europeans, Africans, etc. The tides of history are flowing in this direction. The US will spend a fortune, and in the process slowly destroy itself from within, trying to hold back the tides.