- - Wednesday, December 2, 2020

When Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election, millions of people breathed a sigh of relief. The uncertainty, turmoil and volatility of the Trump presidency was over. There was a renewed hope that the country could return to a more normal version of the presidency, one where our leader acts like a leader, listens to the advice of experts and engages with allies.

It is good to be hopeful. In fact, the tendency to hope and dream for a better future is one of the most appealing characteristics of Americans I experienced when I first moved to the country as a teenager. However, I worry that this optimism will push aside some real issues the election has not solved.

Many have already pointed out that the election does not erase the past four years. Damage to U.S. alliances, national unity, faith in the government and the U.S. position globally has already been done. Some of that damage will take years to fix, if it can be fixed at all.

It also does not erase the fact that the government structure — the judiciary, Congress, etc. — allowed President Trump to continually act in a way unbefitting of a world leader. Many Republicans even backed his baseless assertions that the election was rigged, actively calling into question the integrity of the U.S. democratic system and a peaceful transfer of power.

Over 70 million Americans voted to reelect Mr. Trump. They saw his foreign policy, rhetoric, tweeting, and handling of the coronavirus and decided to sign up for another four years. They witnessed his casual racism, support of White supremacists, and degrading remarks about the “China virus,” and determined it did not matter enough to sway their votes.



As a Chinese-American, even if the election had been a landslide victory for Mr. Biden, I would still feel left out and overlooked. According to Pew Research, Asian-Americans are the fastest growing voting group in the U.S. With exit polls indicating that over 60% of Asian-American voters voted for Mr. Biden, it is clear that we were a powerful voting bloc that had a real impact on the outcome of the election. Yet, our political representation is still severely lacking.

While Asian-Americans do have representation in Congress, they mostly serve states or districts with large Asian-American populations — Hawaii, California and, in the case of Congresswoman Grace Meng, the New York district that includes Flushing and its nearly 70% Asian population.

With Mr. Biden’s announcement of his early picks, we were left without representation in the Cabinet. This would be the first time there are no Asian-Americans in the Cabinet since President Clinton appointed Norman Mineta to the post of secretary of Commerce in 2000. On Nov. 30, Mr. Biden announced Neera Tanden, an Indian-American, as his pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Some might point out that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is Asian-American. Isn’t that representation enough? This, however, is an oversimplification that fails to understand the Asian-American electorate.

First, Asian-Americans are not a homogeneous group. Voting records and policy priorities aside, there is another key difference. The racial stereotypes and prejudices faced by Indian-Americans are often very different than those faced by other Asian-Americans. Due to our similar skin tones and the general ignorance of others, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Korean-Americans and so on tend to have similar experiences with racism. Unlike with Indian-Americans, our treatment is often tied to the mistrust, prejudices and anger people feel toward China as a country.

Secondly, while Kamala Harris is Indian-American, she has been treated by the American media and voters as first and foremost a person of color. In fact, according to an Asian American Voter Survey, Mr. Trump actually gained support among the Indian-American voting bloc over the 2016 election. That Kamala Harris, person of color, had more electability as a vice presidential candidate than Kamala Harris, Asian-American, points to a form of racism that is often ignored when discussing race relations in the U.S.

I certainly acknowledge that racism against Black Americans is a real systemic issue that requires our attention. I commend the Black Lives Matters movement for speaking out and demanding change. For Asian-Americans and other minorities with ties to non-European countries, however, the racism we face takes on a different form. For us, it is our American-ness that is called into question.

When Barack Obama ran for president, there was a failed attempt to claim he held a foreign birth certificate. For myself and other Asian-Americans, it would not matter what our birth certificate says or if our family has been here for generations. There is never enough we can do to prove we are truly American. There is a pervasive racial prejudice that assumes Asian-Americans will have mixed allegiances. This is especially damaging given the current tensions between the U.S. and China and the ongoing anti-China rhetoric.

I was fortunate that my own career goals veered toward civil service in the U.S. government and not politics. I was able to have a good, successful career in the Library of Congress. However, even I faced added scrutiny as I reached the higher levels. I received accusations that I was “too Chinese” and that my loyalties were to Beijing and not Washington. It didn’t matter that I was an American citizen and had moved to the U.S. before the People’s Republic of China was even founded.

There is a path for Asian-Americans to Congress, particularly where Asian-American populations are high, and to additional posts through political appointments. However, the presidency is still far off. It would take an exemplary candidate to break this glass ceiling, someone like John F. Kennedy, who won despite fears that his Roman Catholic religion would lead him to answer to the pope. They would also need support of the political establishment, something I don’t see happening in the near future.

Until then, I will have to hope that my granddaughter’s American Dream does not include the White House.

• Chi Wang spent nearly 50 years working at the U.S. Library of Congress, ultimately serving as the head of the Chinese and Korean Section. He also spent over 40 years teaching Chinese history at Georgetown University and is currently president of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. 

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