Thursday, February 21, 2008

Don't Believe What CNN Says About Asian Americans and Barack Obama

I found out about this CNN story from a member of the Asian American Journalists Association. I hadn't heard about this report. As always, beware of stories saying that Asian Americans wouldn't vote for Barack Obama. Not true!! There's now a petition circulating in the Asian American community asking for a new segment with balanced reporting. Here's the story from New America Media:

Asian Americans Outraged by CNN Election Report

New America Media, News Report, Jun Wang, Posted: Feb 14, 2008

Editor's Note: A CNN report that blames Asians' support of Clinton on their hesitancy to vote for a black president is insulting and inaccurate, argue Asian Americans.

Asian Americans are outraged over a recent CNN report that attributes their support for Hillary Clinton to their hesitancy to vote for a black president.

The three-minute video piece, “Asian Americans to Vote for Hillary Clinton Across the Nation,” aired on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees on Feb. 8.

People with different Asian accents unanimously spoke out one name -- “(Hillary) Clinton” -- when asked for whom they planned to vote. The report identified two major causes for Asian Americans’ support of Clinton, according to viewers: that they were “fearful of a black presidential candidate and/or fearful of change.”

Samson Fu, 27, a health care project manager with no former political experience, started circulating a petition among the Asian community on Feb. 10. The petition gained sponsorship from the “80-20 Initiative,” an Asian American political action committee headquartered in New York.

The petition called CNN’s coverage “a misleading portrayal behind why 75 percent of Asian Americans voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton. Gary Tuchman (the reporter) seems to insinuate those Asian American votes as racially motivated and/or fearful of change.”

On the contrary, the petition points out that Asian Americans, especially first generation immigrants, “by their choice to come to a new land, are by and large the least fearful of changes.”

It urges CNN to take the video off of their Web site and run another segment with balanced reporting and include the rise of political cohesiveness within the Asian American community.

The petition collected more than 2,000 signatures and about 900 comments in two days. A copy of the petition letter, with more than 800 pages of signatures and comments, has been sent to CNN.

Samson Fu and S.B. Woo, the former lieutenant governor of Delaware and founder of the “80-20 Initiative,” have been in conversation with CNN’s top executives. John Liu, New York City councilman, plans to hold a press conference late this week if CNN doesn’t respond to the petition.

The CNN video is “biased, more of an opinion piece than investigative reporting,” Fu told New America Media. “CNN should be held responsible for making Asians appear racist, which is not true. Fu added that many of his friends were equally insulted by the report. “I initiated the petition to capture their feelings.”

Asian American viewers were also critical of CNN’s choice to interview only Asian Americans with heavy accents. One comment on the petition asks, “What is up with white people choosing only the non-fluent Asian population for the interviews… making Asian people look like dumb-asses, who don’t know English? I’m thinking prejudice and racism… What do you think?”

Another comment on the petition agrees, saying, “Many Asian Americans are educated and speak English very well. Perhaps you should represent our community more accurately.”

From Filipinos to Asian Indians, Asian Americans are a diverse group, says Samson Fu. They come from dozens of countries and cultural backgrounds. In cities like Seattle, Fu adds, it isn’t hard to interview a larger variety of Asians – instead of just talking to people in a Japanese teahouse.

Born in Hong Kong, Fu came to the United States at the age of five and spent 19 years in South Carolina before moving to Los Angeles three years ago. He says he didn’t know any other Asians in South Carolina.

“South Carolina’s population is black and white,” he says, “but I experienced no racial tension there at all. My black friends invited me home and cooked for me. They treated me like everyone else.”

As an Asian American growing up with black friends in South Carolina, Fu says he appreciates the idea of having a black president of the United States. “If you’ve ever traveled outside this country, you know that when people talk about America, they think of Caucasians, white people,” says Fu. “A black president will let people know we’re a multiracial country.”

Asian Americans have supported Clinton in large numbers for a variety of reasons, Fu argues in his petition. “One important factor in Asian Americans’ preference of Sen. Clinton over Sen. Obama may be the endorsement of Sen. Clinton by the 80-20 Initiative, because she signed an iron-clad promise to bring equal opportunity in workplaces for all Asian Americans a month and a half before Obama did.”

The election is “not about race and skin color,” Fu adds. “We African Americans, Asian Americans and other racial groups are one America.”

S. B. Woo, who was born in Shanghai and moved to the United States in 1956 at the age of 18, shares Fu’s perspective of the unity of Americans and is hoping for a “win-win” resolution with CNN.

But with the American civil rights movement deeply rooted in his heart, Woo is more interested in uniting all Asians. His wish, reflected in the name “80-20 Initiative,” is to direct 80 percent of Asian Americans’ votes in one direction for the equal opportunity of all Asian Americans and the benefit of the nation.

When he moved here in the 1950s, Asians represented less than one percent of the American population. They were almost invisible. In half a century, Asian Americans have increased to more than four percent of the U.S. population, but their voices have still largely gone unheard.

One comment posted by Jo Ann from North Royalton, Ohio on CNN’s website touches on the invisibility of Asians, a race that she says “hasn’t been considered.” “It does seem that whenever we talk about race we seem to forget about the Asian-American population,” she writes. “I often wonder why it is that they never seem to complain about being left out. Shame on us for not considering them without being prompted!”

Woo says he has learned a lesson from “older Asian Americans” who he says surrendered too easily in the face of challenges. When he immigrated to the United States, African Americans were suffering greatly from discrimination. But they fought back and gained from the civil rights movement. Asian Americans, he says, also need to stand up.

“We Asians benefit from blacks. But we should not take it for granted,” he says, stressing the need for Asian Americans to take action to realize their own dreams.