What does it mean to Eat Bitterness and be Asian in the United States?

On April 25, 2011, Nadra Kareem Nittle wrote, Are U.S. Universities Discriminating Against Asian Students? The answer to Nittle’s question was and still is YES.

In the US, since the Civil Rights era preferential treatment favored African-Americans and Latinos since Asian-Americans tend to swallow their bitterness instead of protesting violently as the other minorities have done.

For example, the NAACP says it fights for social justice for all Americans. However, facts demonstrate that the NAACP tends to favor legislation that focuses on benefits for African Americans. If this were not true, there would be no need for political organizations to serve Latinos and Asian-Americans.

In fact, Africana Online said, “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been instrumental in improving the legal, educational, and economic lives of African Americans.” There was no mention of the other minorities that suffer from racism in the U.S.

However, Latino Political Clout is growing in the U.S. to challenge the NAACP’s clout. The recent US Census indicated Latinos continue to become a larger ratio of the American population. With growing numbers will come political and social changes to the country.

But we know that the number of votes a minority such as African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans deliver during an election results in political influence, and it’s obvious that blacks are winning when it comes to clout because a higher ratio of blacks vote than whites, Latinos and Asians.

For instance, in 2012, a larger percentage of blacks—66% of eligible black voters—voted than whites (64.1%). In contrast, Latino voters tend to turn out in slightly lower ratios than blacks or whites. Asians, on the other hand, are not voting like they could. According to Pew Research.org, only three in ten Asian American eligible voters cast ballots in midterm elections.

As demonstrated, Asian American political organizations have a long way to go to catch up to African-American and Hispanic or Latino political influence.

Is this because Asian and Chinese Americans are crippled by the influence of their cultures when it comes to increasing political influence in the U.S. since Chinese parents teach their children to eat bitterness?

In China, the tradition to “eat bitter” has been passed down from generation to generation. “Eat bitter” is a literal translation of Chinese "吃苦", which refers to endure hardship including discrimination without complaint or protest.

The 2014 Census 2014 census revealed that minority influence is not equal since there are about 42.1 million African-Americans, 55.5 million Hispanic or Latino Americans and only 17.1 million Asian Americans, who turn out to vote in lower ratios. Numbers count and it helps that Latinos and African-Americans do not eat bitterness like most Asians do.

I think that the Asian cultural aspect of “eating bitterness” has been influenced by Taoism, Buddhism and Confucius while in the West the warlike and often-violent religions of Christianity and Islam did not follow the same path.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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2 Responses to What does it mean to Eat Bitterness and be Asian in the United States?

  1. Susan says:

    I think that there is more to the tendency of Chinese people in the U.S. to tolerate discrimination than having been taught to eat bitter. It is also a face saving mechanism, a matter of pride. Many successful people of Chinese origin will deny that there is no discrimination against Asians in the U.S., and I think that they feel that they would lose face if they acknowledged the existence of Asian discrimination. Another factor is that many successful Chinese people harbor the belief that they are superior to whites. But these cultural trends seem to be changing with the current generation of Chinese young people, who are starting to organize and publicly object to anti-Asian discrimination.

    • Good points. Thank you for sharing them. I didn’t think of “face saving” playing a roll in this, and now that you mention it, I agree. It does play a roll. You are also right about younger Chinese publicly objecting to anti-Asian discrimination. I’ve witnessed/heard this but, as an observer, didn’t give it much thought at the time.

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