The Asian American Blind Spot

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Asian Americans haven't been winning any popularity contests. A whopping one-quarter of Americans have strong negative opinions about Asian Americans, according to a recent survey by the Committee of 100, a Chinese American organization. And the business world isn't courting this group either.

Marketers have not viewed Asian Americans as a fast-growing, powerful market worthy of their attention. One reason is that Asian Americans make up just 4 percent of the population and more than half of the country's 10 million Asian Americans are concentrated in just nine states. But Asian Americans are also the second fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, behind Hispanics, according to Census 2000 data. The Census Bureau also reports that the Asian population has grown an impressive 72 percent between 1990 and 2000, compared with only 13.2 percent for the total population. And furthermore, Asian Americans hold purchasing power: The average Asian household income was $48,614 between 1997 and 1999, compared with $39,657 for the total population, according to the Current Population Survey.

The report by the Committee of 100 found that Americans harbor a host of negative biases against Asian Americans, even when compared with other racial and ethnic groups: 23 percent said they would not vote for an Asian American presidential candidate. On the subject of intermarriage, 24 percent of Americans would not approve of intermarriage with an Asian American — higher than the disapproval rating for intermarriage with Hispanics (21 percent) or Jews (16 percent).

Besides worrying about Asian Americans joining their families, some respondents also expressed negative feelings about Asians in the workplace: 7 percent said they would not want to work for a CEO of Asian descent. In fact, Americans would rather work for an African American CEO (only 4 percent said they would rather not), a Jewish CEO (4 percent), or a female CEO (3 percent).

One of the few areas in which Asian Americans scored high with Americans was family: 91 percent claimed that Asian Americans exhibit strong family values. Many Americans also believe that Asians are a model minority: 27 percent consider Asians to be more intelligent than other ethnic groups; 77 percent believe that Asians are as honest as other businessmen; 68 percent believe that Asians are patriots; and 67 percent believe that they place a higher value on education than other groups.

These results surprised and saddened Asian American business leaders. Jeff Lin, CEO of Asian American advertising firm Admerasia, said the results made him feel “very depressed.� Lin admits, however, that the survey's findings correspond to how advertisers view and market to Asians. He calls it the Asian blind spot. “There's been a resistance from corporate America,� he says. “They still think of us as a small minority and don't recognize that our purchasing power is strong and that our assets are greater than those of other ethnic groups.�

But not everyone draws the same connection between negative Asian stereotyping and reluctance to market to Asians. Saul Gitlin, vice president of strategic services at Asian American ad agency Kang & Lee, says that while “it's tempting to think that Asian American marketing has grown less than Hispanic marketing because of bias,� his experience pitching the Asian market to large advertisers has not shown this to be the case. Instead, he points to market size, noting that many advertisers use a 5 percent population hurdle as a segmenting tool, and Asian Americans fall below this figure. Gitlin thinks negative public attitudes may stem from a combination of misinformation and jealousy. “Asian Americans out-index other groups in educational attainment and entrepreneurialism,� he says.

As for the future, Gitlin predicts that Census 2000 data, particularly the income and housing numbers that will be released next year, will raise awareness of Asians in the marketing community. It may also alter perceptions among the public as well.

For more information, contact the Committee of 100 at (212) 371-6565.

Asian-tudes

Sentiments about Asian Americans are mixed, though an appreciable minority (up to 34 percent) hold negative stereotypes of them.

NEGATIVE

STEREOTYPE*
PROBABLY

TRUE
PROBABLY

FALSE
POSITIVE

STEREOTYPE*
PROBABLY

TRUE
PROBABLY

FALSE
Excessive Hi-tech influence 34% 54% Strong family values 91% 3%
Like being the boss 32% 50% Honest businessmen 77% 14%
More loyal to China** 32% 48% As patriotic as others 68% 21%
Difficult to befriend 28% 58% Value education 67% 24%
Overly aggressive at work 26% 56% Work harder 47% 42%
Take away jobs 24% 68% Commit less crime 35% 44%
Too much business power 23% 68% More intelligent 27% 63%
*Figures do not add up to 100% because some respondents answered “not sure.�
**Attitudes toward Chinese Americans were extrapolated to all of Asian Americans, based on identical responses when “Chinese� and “Asian� were substituted.
Source: Yankelovich Partners, for the Committee of 100

Fight the Power

Americans are routinely less comfortable with Asians holding positions of power, compared with women and other minority groups. Twenty-three percent would be uncomfortable with an Asian American President.

Source: Yankelovich Partners, for the Committee of 100

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