The Asian-American Double Standard

Congratulations to Tamar Jacoby for her excellent article, one of the best on Asian-Americans I have read in a number of years. I would add only two points.

First, although the handful of Asian-American ethnic activists whom she interviewed receive considerable attention in the mainstream media, a far more significant phenomenon is the impact that socially conservative Asian-Americans are having on America’s mainline Protestant churches. For example, Korean pastors strongly opposed to gay marriage and other liberal policies are currently attempting to gain leadership positions in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to reverse the denomination’s cultural tide. At the same time, the Christian-fellowship circles at most Ivy League universities are now heavily Asian-American. Such trends receive little attention because religious issues are far from the thoughts of most journalists.

Second, although some of the rhetoric of Asian activists regarding the Wen Ho Lee affair and the campaign-finance scandals is exaggerated, their basic complaint about unfair racial targeting has considerable merit. Lee has already been cleared of the original espionage charge, and the only remaining charge against him–the mishandling of restricted but nonsecret data–is quite minor compared with the self-admitted practices of John Deutch, the former CIA director. Yet Lee has been held for an extended period of time without bail in solitary confinement, while so far Deutch has been left to live in honorable retirement.

Similarly, the Clinton administration’s “Asian-money scandal” became the focus of media coverage and Republican rhetoric during the 1996 campaign even though the amounts involved were relatively small and the Asian donors had sought nothing more than the government access and favors sought by other givers. It seems likely that the Republicans’ continual emphasis on “Asian money” and “Buddhist-temple fundraisers” has to do with the demonstrated impact of such phrases in polling and focus groups, an impact derived from ethnic suspicion.

During the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, a disproportionate share of America’s Communist leaders and spies were of Jewish origin. Nonetheless, all but the most irresponsible anti-Communists did what they could to ensure that America’s Jewish community at large was not unfairly tainted with the charge of disloyalty. Americans in general should remember this history as they consider the sometimes uncomfortable position of groups that have immigrated to the country more recently.

Ron Unz

Palo Alto, California


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