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Face the Facts: Shame On The New York Times for Making the Same Mistake About South Asians Once Again

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  • The last time the ‘Gray Lady’ did this was in 2016, when it produced an opinion video of Asian Americans describing experiences with racial slurs. Out of 24 people they interviewed, nearly all were East Asian and none were South Asian.

The New York Times editorial team apparently decided to take a deeper look at Asian America. They did so by conducting a focus group that explored topics ranging from self-identity to race relations, to the uptick in hate incidents and gun violence in Asian American communities.

Kudos to the New York Times opinion page for prioritizing Asian American communities and Asian American voices.

But shame on them for making the same big mistake once again, acting as if East Asians are the majority of Asian America.

The last time that New York Times editorial did this was in 2016, when they produced an opinion video of Asian Americans describing experiences with racial slurs. Out of 24 people they interviewed, nearly all were East Asian and none were South Asian (only one was Filipino, then the second largest community of Asian Americans).

AAPI Data called out this misleading representation in 2016, urging the New York Times to do better in reflecting the fact that South Asians were about 1 in 4 Asian Americans.

We followed up in 2017, when NPR did a segment asking “Can East Asians Call Themselves Brown?” We showed that East Asians continue to shrink as a share of the total Asian American population (from 43% in 2000 to 37% in 2016), and that South Asians are the fastest growing segment of the Asian American population. We also pointed to research by Jennifer Lee and Karthick Ramakrishnan (subsequently published as the article “Who Counts as Asian?” in Ethnic and Racial Studies) which shows that Asian Americans, and Americans more generally, continue to hold onto the outdated notion of East Asian as the archetype of what it means to be Asian in America.

Since 2016, the share of South Asians has grown even more, from 27 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2021. Indeed, when you look at the population that identifies as Asian only (and not as Asian and some other race), there are more Indian Americans living in the United States now than Chinese Americans (4.4 million and 4.1 million, respectively). When you include those who identify as Asian and some other race, Chinese Americans are the largest (at 21.5%) followed by Indian Americans (19.5%) and Filipinos (18%).

It is high time for editors, reporters, and opinion teams to face the facts:

  1. South Asians are Asian Americans
  2. South Asians are the fastest growing group of Asian Americans
  3. South Asians represent 25% to 29% of the Asian American population, depending on which Census data table you use.

Journalistic representations of Asian Americans need to catch up to these realities, and fast.

(This story was first published in aapidata.com and republished here with permission).


Karthick Ramakrishnan is professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside. He also the founder and director of Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside, and AAPI Data.