Should We Vote on Someone Based on Their Ethnicity?

An interesting story was released in today’s issue of SF Gate about the Democratic leadership refusing to endorse any Asian Americans for mayor, even though over half of the candidates from Asian. Many local Chinese Americans protested the decision and questioned the decision. To me, the issue brings up a bigger issue of how/why we back candidates of color and why it is important that we do.

To me, it seems that people generally support candidates who they believe can relate to their own personal experiences, values, and experiences. You’d like to see a person of color a part of the decision making process when it comes to issues affecting communities of color. It lends to the idea of authenticity and credibility. Perhaps was not too great of a surprise when President Obama won 96% of the black vote, even though historically Republicans have a greater foundational history in supporting civil rights than Democrats do. For example, in the 26 major civil rights votes after 1933, Republican majority supported civil rights in over 96% of the votes. By contrast, Democratic majority opposed civil rights votes over 80% of the time (and also here). However, with broad brushing by the media and both parties, we’re often left with stereotypes of each side: Republicans being redneck, racists, and greedy; Democrats are elitists, corrupt, and support terrorism. History doesn’t louder than the characterizations we receive of those who we disagree with. We as voters want to trust our gut feelings and we hope that the person we’re supporting understands the plight of our communities because they have gone through the very same experience themselves. Even if sometimes the solution might not be what we expect.

There are countless examples of politicians misleading their base: immorality despite a platform of religious righteousness, economic scandal in the face of campaign of corruption, betraying their wedding vows or oath of office. To be fair, these exceptions should not be the standard in which we judge future candidates. We should continue to have faith in individuals that we support and relate to in hopes that they can bring progress to our communities. We should support the positive exchange of ideas not the demonizing by overzealous naysayers. Furthermore, I personally believe that we should support individuals irregardless of their party affiliation: if their ideas, their values, their experiences, and their history show them to be the best fit then may the best candidate win.

I would like to see more Asian American candidates enter the field and winning seats because despite several decade of “talk” from candidates, progress in the way of addressing the major disparities in health, education, income, access, and rights still remain rather bleak. The only group that has ever address the “Model Minority Myth” with precision, accuracy, and delicacy has been Asian Americans, the very group referred to by the Model Minority. Shouldn’t it make sense that we are included in the conversation when it comes to issues pertaining to our community because we know that very community the best?

So in answer to the question that I posed earlier: should we vote on someone based on their ethnicity? Maybe. I believe it should be one of several factors: do they have a history of addressing the needs of the community at large? Do you share similar values and a philosophy on how to solve issues?


Simon Tam is a Chinese/Taiwanese American, an activist, and musician. He is the founder and bassist for The Slants, the first and only all Asian American dance rock band in the world. Presenting a bold, unapologetic view of the API experience through their music, Simon delivers workshops and talks on Asian American culture throughout the continent. He is an enthusiastic supporter of API advocacy organizations, adopting dogs, and fighting cancer.
An avid fan of music, reading, and diversity, Simon is a regular contributor to API Crossroads and You Offend Me You Offend My Family. His writing can be found at 

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