Asian Pacific Americans Count. So Start Counting Us Already.

Asian Pacific Americans Count. So Start Counting Us Already.
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CNN recently released the results of a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll asking "How big of a problem is racism in our society today?" It is probably not surprising that 49% said racism is a "big problem" - nearly double the 28% who responded that way in 2011. What is surprising is that CNN didn't include Asian Pacific Americans in its respondents. Or Native Americans, for that matter.

Of 1,951 respondents, 500 were African American, and 501 were Hispanic. CNN doesn't mention Asian Pacific Americans or Native Americans at all--and I was beginning to wonder if we had actually been intentionally excluded from a survey about views on racism. Or if we were inexplicably assumed to be "White." The Kaiser Family Foundation, at the very bottom of its explanation of methodology, finally acknowledges that Asian Americans exist and were part of the random sample--but that "the number of respondents who identify as Asian or as mixed race was fewer than 100, and therefore too small to report separately."

The appropriate response to a small sample size is not to simply discard the results and exclude us from the racial breakdown. The appropriate response is to oversample to reduce the margin of error. This is a concept CNN and KFF clearly were familiar with because they had a three-part plan to oversample African Americans and Hispanic Americans.

In fact, this poll even went so far as to ensure that the sample of Hispanic respondents was weighted by nativity and national family heritage--broken down by Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and all other countries.

It is stunning that an effort so sensitive to ensure that, say, there was not an over-representation of Cuban Americans among Hispanic respondents would throw up its hands when less than a 100 Asian Americans were part of the random sample as if nothing more could be done.

The simple reality: they didn't believe our views were worth counting.

Bias in excluding Asian Pacific Americans from reports that break down results by race is demeaning and marginalizing, but some polls go even further and show bias in the questions asked, too.

Take the Gallup poll earlier this year, which asked Americans whether they would vote for a President with a particular demographic characteristic. The Politico headline was about the majority of Americans who were unwilling to vote for a socialist, but I was troubled by the other questions in the survey.

Would you vote for a female presidential candidate? Of course it was included.

African American? Ditto.

Hispanic, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, evangelical Christian, Muslim, atheist, or gay or lesbian? Yup, all eight of those characteristics, too.

Asian Pacific American? Nope. (And Native Americans were excluded again, too.)

This is an especially glaring omission because an Asian American, Governor Bobby Jindal, had formed his presidential exploratory committee just weeks earlier, while there are no declared candidates that fit several of these criteria.

Why were Asian Pacific Americans not included?

Did Gallup not think there could be a "generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Asian Pacific American?"

Did it think the question wasn't worth asking because there is no bias against us?

For a poll that has periodically added candidate characteristics since its inception in 1937--including Black in 1958 (actually, "Negro" until the 1978 version) and Hispanic in 2007, the exclusion is jarring and indefensible.

When the media and pollsters send a message that Asian Pacific Americans don't count--that it's not worth asking our opinions and not worth asking others' opinions about us--the exclusions from the public narrative are (at the very least) microaggressions that shape how society and our decisionmakers view us. In turn, public policy may reflect that bias and not include us, either--leaving us without resources to succeed or even data to understand the underlying problems that need to be addressed.

Last week, the President signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law. While it has positive aspects, for Asian Pacific Americans, it comes with deep disappointment that bipartisan efforts to understand the diversity of our communities and help us achieve equal access to quality education were left behind.

Earlier this year, Senators Mazie Hirono and Dean Heller offered the All Students Count amendment that would have required school districts with at least 1,000 Asian Pacific American students to disaggregate their data so that policymakers and stakeholders could better understand the gaps in educational achievement in our communities and work to close them.

This data disaggregation is necessary because despite the persistent "model minority" myth that emphasizes several statistics of "success" for the overall Asian Pacific American community, we know that there are disparities just below the surface. For example, while 94% of Japanese Americans have a high school diploma, the same is true for only 81% of Chinese Americans and only 71% of Vietnamese Americans do. While 86% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a high school diploma--same as the national rate--only 16% have at least at least bachelor's degree--barely half the national rate--indicating a potential need for more focus on college readiness in these communities.

Unfortunately, the Hirono-Heller amendment was narrowly defeated when 50 Republican Senators opposed it. While Senator Heller's leadership demonstrates that support for data disaggregation crosses party lines, sadly, Governor Jerry Brown's veto this fall of legislation that would have required data disaggregation by California's publicly-funded universities and community colleges (which passed nearly unanimously) shows that opposition does not fall on one side of the aisle, either.

More polls that include Asian Pacific Americans in questions and as respondents will not by themselves directly impact public policy, but the media and pollsters who conduct these surveys have a responsibility to be inclusive.

Imagine if it were truly unacceptable for the public narrative to not count Asian Pacific Americans. Then maybe lawmakers would more easily understand that it is equally unacceptable to not count us in public policy, too--and that truly counting us in policy decisions means through meaningful disaggregated data.

Excuses of small sample sizes ring hollow to the fastest growing racial group in the country. We are not invisible. And we're ready to tell you what we think.

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