By Ador Pereda Yano
Political reductionism is an unfortunate burden that we all bear in our troubled times. It is practiced across the whole range of partisan pronouncements, from the extreme left, through even the supposedly moderate center, and on to the extreme right.
We all fall for this human tendency to simplify in order to justify our analyses, judgements, actions, and votes. But we all fail when we do not consider with grace, generosity, and intellectual modesty other complex reasons for how others who do not agree with us arrive at their own political views.
So how should a voter in the API community respond when confronted with a condescending advice that one “doesn’t need to vote our race or ethnicity in local elections”?
I am dismayed to read such presumption in a recent political opinion piece in a local newspaper. The article framed a perfectly reasonable personal perspective with an offensive community characterization based on simplistic reduction of the political motives of those who may not agree with the writer’s expressed preference for two local candidates in the November election.
The opinion piece would have been a reasonable and respectful statement of personal support for the writer’s preferred candidates (specifically for the King County Council District 8 and for the Seattle City Council District 2). The writer certainly has extensive experience in local and state politics.
What is troubling is the title and the preface to the writer’s candidate recommendations. This framing assumes a light-headedness and political naïveté to many of us in the API community who might not support or vote for the writer’s preferences.
Does the title “Why We Don’t Need to Vote Our Race/Ethnicity in Local Elections” give our diverse Asian American community any complex political, moral, and intellectual agency? No, it assumes a reductive and binary political equation. At best, it is condescending, and at worst, it arrogantly upends the decades-long and still-continuing struggle for Asian American political enfranchisement in a historically and predominantly white Seattle and King County populace.
The introductory paragraph is an unfortunately glib swipe at serious concerns in our API community when it declares perfunctorily that “despite a recent increase in racial hate crimes, vandalism, and harassment of BIPOC communities, some things have changed for the better.”
Nothing, then, to worry here, people?
The preface to the opinion piece then states the offending characterization of a community — clearly the API community — that has experienced these recent violations and then insults the candidates who empathically responded to these community concerns: “We no longer have to wring our hands and hope for the best when a person of our own racial or ethnic group is not ready for prime time, but we feel compelled to vote for them out of ethnic solidarity anyway.”
We all recognize that politics in a representative democracy is messy and multifaceted, emotional and ideological, culturally and generationally diverse. It’s a crazy, stressful, intersectional, and multidimensional process that somehow has served our country in imperfect ways throughout our history.
What it isn’t—and what it shouldn’t be—is a simplistic and arrogant encapsulation of a community’s projected action under the term “voting out our ethnic solidarity.” These are the terms of jaded political operatives. These are the terms of simplistic categorization that renders the complex human concerns at the ground level unimportant. These are the terms that undermine the noble, if seemingly impossible, goals of equal justice for all.
At the end of the day, this offending opinion piece missed the most important part of the political calculus—that local conditions drive the energy and responses of affected voters.
While cluelessly chiding the API community for practicing the politics of ethnic identity, the opinion writer does not seem to recognize that API voters in our community have already moved on to a more enlightened and empowering politics to promote authentically the community’s own interests and needs.
Ador Pereda Yano is a long-time community volunteer who has served on community non-profit boards in the Seattle area.