Andrew Yang: The Hero for Asians?
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Among New York City’s thousands of Asian American businesses, next to the racks of glistening roast pork or crates of fresh fruit and vegetables crowding the stores’ windows, there is usually a navy blue “Yang for New York” sign. Andrew Yang, famous for his happy demeanor and heterodox views during his 2020 presidential campaign, now has a serious chance at becoming NYC’s first Asian American mayor. His name recognition and support from the Asian American community have lifted him to the top of many polls. But while the Asian community loves Yang for the representation he brings, they ignore his anti-Asian policies and comments.
In a year-old op-ed for The Washington Post addressing the spike in anti-Asian racism, he wrote, “We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red, white, and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”
While Asian Americans should help others, the underlying tone and message in this piece are loud and clear: show your patriotism and support so that people will not be racist to you. Yang expresses that the Asian American community should volunteer and donate to coronavirus relief foundations to “show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans.” He implies that donating and expressing patriotism are the price to pay for acceptance and the avoidance of racism. Yang, the “champion” of Asian Americans, implies that we should assimilate and become “more American,” which is naive. No amount of red, white, and blue garments will alter us in the eyes of racists. It will not stop the racial and hateful slurs and the violence.
Yang’s argument is reminiscent of Booker T. Washington’s advocacy of the idea that African Americans should make themselves more respectful and pull themselves by the bootstraps, as opposed to blaming others. By doing so, Washington hoped that African Americans could appeal by showing that they could be useful members of society and earn their rights. If African Americans had followed Washington and chosen to bear the discrimination they faced, they would not support someone as audacious as Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, both of whom fiercely advocated against inequality.
Similarly, if Asian Americans had assimilated in the face of the adversities in the past, we would not have the strong cultural identity we have today. The Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1992 Los Angeles riots in Koreatown, and other struggles Asian Americans have faced were not overcome by adopting American personas and culture. Giving in would have yielded nothing but a lack of a distinct Asian identity and a deeply ingrained belief in Asian inferiority.
Yang was adored by the Asian American community because he was a major representative in politics. However, his low exposure and chances of winning kept observers from noticing his tone-deaf comments. Yang consistently appealed to the model minority myth in his pursuit of the Oval Office by joking, “I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors” or “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.” While the jokes may seem harmless, he is fortifying stereotypes that are harmful to Asian people and other minority groups by forcing Asian people to work harder to meet the expectations set for them while discouraging the minorities who are compared to these stereotypes. Having someone with as strong of a voice as Yang say these remarks jokingly does nothing but worsen preconceptions of Asian Americans.
Praised for providing Asian people with the representation they have so desperately needed, Yang’s words are impactful in the community. Though he acknowledged that his claim that Asians needed to show their patriotism “fell short,” it raises concerns about his ability to combat anti-Asian discrimination. Yang’s choice to release the op-ed thinking that it was acceptable in the first place leads us to believe that he may not have what it takes to lead NYC.
Yang is not the hero of the Asian American community. Though he may have appeared to be the perfect candidate, his past comments have made it clear that he perpetuates Asian stereotypes, whether inadvertently or not, and contributes to the issue of discrimination among racial minorities. Instead of automatically choosing Yang based on ethnicity, Asian Americans should research what other mayoral candidates bring to the table.