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The other day, my apolitical grandma, who voted for the first time in her life back in 2020’s presidential election, told me she was thinking about who she was going to vote for in New York City’s mayoral race. The Democratic primary is June 22, and, with barely a month to go, her apartment has been flooded with campaign ads, political endorsements, and promises. Her current choice? Andrew Yang. “Why?” I asked her. Unsurprisingly, she says, “Because he’s Chinese!” My grandpa chimed in, “We have to vote for the Chinese guy because we’re Chinese.”
I’m Chinese, but I don’t support Andrew Yang. The thing is, even if it’s nice to finally see someone who looks like me in politics, a place where we are historically underrepresented, there is more to a candidate than how they look and what cultural background they come from. Representational politics only go so far; he might look like us, but he doesn’t help us. That’s because Andrew Yang’s campaign is entirely built around one thing: the model minority myth. This racist stereotype generalizes our communities as being hard working and overachieving while also being quiet and submissive. All Asians are doctors, lawyers, and engineers; all Asians are good at math; all Asians go to Yale or Harvard; all Asians are emotionless robots.
Andrew Yang sports a "math" hat and pin, exemplifying his self-tokenizing and reinforcement of the Model Minority Myth. (Source)
Andrew Yang Upholds the Model Minority Myth
You might remember how Yang once joked that he knows a lot of doctors because he’s Asian, or that his slogan back in his short-lived presidential run was MATH: Make America Think Harder. But what’s so bad about being the model minority? What’s wrong with being stereotyped as successful?
The model minority myth is simplifying, wrong, and dangerous to us all, precisely because it doesn’t seem so bad. In response to the pandemic’s escalating anti-Asian violence, Andrew Yang wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that Asian Americans should assimilate more into whiteness: “We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. [...] 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.” He says that we, the marginalized group, should prove reasons why we should be viewed as equals to everyone else. We should assimilate and not be threatening to people, because the racism non Asians project onto us is something we can, and should, be responsible for. We’re the model minority—if we’re experiencing violent attacks in the street, it just means we aren’t trying hard enough to belong to this country.
This argument is ridiculous, and, furthermore, incredibly dangerous. No matter how hard Asian Americans try to assimilate to “American” culture, we do not look “American.” The ‘American’ half of our identity cannot protect us Chinese Americans, because to be ‘American’ still means, fundamentally, to be white. No matter how much effort we have poured into making our lives here in the United States, or how well integrated we think we are into safety and success, we remain vulnerable to accusations that we don’t belong.” Our belonging in this country is, and will always be, conditional because of how we look. Yang’s pro-assimilationist views do not help and only serve to cut Chinese Americans off from their culture. As Columbia senior Canwen Xu wrote in her rebuttal (also published in the Post), Yang is a “white-people pleaser.” He is the definition of the model minority, “willing to uphold a system that is rigged against us by submissively working within.”
We don’t have to look back very far in history to demonstrate that assimilation has never worked in our favor. During World War II, when the American government incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans simply because they “looked like the enemy,” many prominent Japanese American organizations encouraged Japanese Americans to “Westernize” themselves as much as possible. Being pro-American and submissive is exactly what many Japanese Americans did to show how patriotic they were (which Yang noted), and they were still interned in the middle of a desert, with barbed wire fences and guard towers surrounding them (which Yang definitely did not note). They were prisoners of their own country and lost everything—their livelihoods, their rights, and their freedom—but, oh yes, wearing red, white, and blue will magically cause racists to be not racist. The Manzanar Committee, formed of the descendants of the Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar, the largest internment camp, has vehemently opposed Yang’s comments: “Instead of placing the onus on the racists and opportunistic politicians[ …] Yang has placed the burden on the victims [... He] may think the solution to racism is to be compliant, but fighting for one’s rights against inequality and racism has been an integral part of our nation’s history [...] If these basic rights are denied, then fighting back is not only justified, but it is also necessary. [...] Fighting back is as ‘American’ as you can get.’”
After facing immense backlash, Yang responded, “I realize that the op-ed fell short. I did not mean to suggest that we as Asian Americans needed to do anything more to prove that we are Americans. We’ve been here, we belong here and will continue to be part of the fabric of America.” But the thing with him is that he’s always falling short. He says things that only portray half the picture and then he only backs up and apologizes after he faces an onslaught of criticism. Does Yang really have our best interests at heart? Or is he simply trying to be pliant and likable at the expense of the community he supposedly represents?
Assimilating did not protect Japanese Americans from internment camps, and being the “model minority” does not protect us from anti-Asian violence. Furthermore, the model minority myth hides the fact that Asian Americans have the highest wealth gap in any racial group, thus preventing our most vulnerable communities from getting the support they need to survive. Indeed, a lot of the recent incidents of anti-Asian violence have been happening in lower-income ethnic enclaves, like Chinatowns, not wealthy suburbs. Asian Americans—particularly low-income Asian Americans—are therefore rendered doubly invisible by the model minority myth, because it prevents people from seeing both the racism and poverty we struggle with. In other words, the model minority myth obscures the reality of what it means to be Asian in this country. Leaning into this myth, as Andrew Yang does, will ultimately only harm us.
"Fight for NYCHA" demonstrators protest against Yang's flawed UBI plan, which requires New Yorkers receiving public benefits to choose between $1,000 a month or their welfare. (source)
Andrew Yang’s Problematic and Weak Politics and Policy
Andrew Yang also is generally a weak political candidate. “He has never worked in government, or voted in a New York City election, or started anything bigger than a hundred-person nonprofit.” He has also never been involved in politics, ever, with the exception of his presidential run. Being the mayor of New York is not the time to test out political ambitions and is most definitely not an entry level job. It’s especially crucial for New Yorkers now, as the city has been slammed by the pandemic and will need an effective leader to help it recover. Andrew Yang is not your leader. Though he is currently leading in the polls because of his celebrity status, an actual look into his campaign shows that “aside from working the phones, his plans were vague.”
Yang’s most famous policy is his Universal Basic Income (UBI) plan, which he calls Freedom Dividend, where he promises $1,000 per month for all people over the age of 18. First of all, this is a paltry amount of money. It’s unimaginable how he believes that a mere $12,000 a year will bridge the wealth gap in New York City, a city in which 103 billionaires live. A wealth tax would go much farther to level the playing field. “9 in 10 New Yorkers support a wealth tax on billionaires, with 72% stating that they would be more likely to support candidates for office that also back that proposal.” Yet Yang would still like to continue catering to the rich, white New York elite rather than advocating for the most marginalized of us. Secondly, “research reveals [that people] on welfare would be forced to choose between receiving the full $1,000 or their full welfare benefits. If this seems regressive and punitive to the poor, that’s because it is.” To the poorest immigrants in our communities, this will be a huge problem; it’s clearly not beneficial to them. There are a lot of Chinese people, such as my grandparents, who need welfare to survive and will not be able to do so under a Yang mayorship. According to a 2018 report from the Asian American Federation over 20% of Chinese Americans living in NYC live under the poverty line, and “in Queens, home of the largest Asian population in the city, the Asian poverty rate exceeded that of Blacks and approaches that of Hispanics.” If he’s such an advocate for our community, why does his proposed policy keep the poor, which make up a sizable proportion in the NYC Asian American population, in poverty?
In light of the recent resurgence of anti-Asian violence, “Yang has come out in favor of getting more officers patrolling the subways and staffing the hate-crime unit.” But “as demonstrated by the March 16, 2021 shootings in Atlanta, when white people murder Asian people, the acts are chalked up to ‘senseless violence.’” Police will excuse white perpetrators, denying that the killings are racially motivated at all, which is a problem because 90% of the perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are white. (We just see the videos of Black people attacking us because “American media tends to over-report on incidents involving Black suspects.”) He’s generally pro-police, which is a problem, because “increased policing has historically led to the increased arrests [and deaths] of [...] vulnerable populations”—including Asian Americans. Look at Yang Song, a Chinese massage worker in Flushing who was killed in a police raid in November of 2017. Look at Christian Hall, a 19-year-old Chinese American boy, and Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Filipino American man, who were both murdered by the police in the midst of mental health crises. When Andrew Yang sides with the police, he is directly endangering our communities.
Another sign of Andrew Yang’s questionable policy choices are that not one labor union has endorsed him. In fact, it’s rare for a NYC mayoral candidate to win without the backing of one. The reason behind this hesitancy is simply that the unions don’t know where Yang stands on business/worker relations. If he hasn’t gotten this stance figured out by now, his future as the mayor does not bode well. Yang was also recently roundly condemned for his pro-Israeli government tweet,, where he stood by a government that has been in clear violation of international law as it continues carrying out apartheid and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. This not only is another example of where he said something and then immediately regretted it, but also a sign of how disorganized his policy is when ultra-conservatives like Stephen Miller, Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz praised him.
Andrew Yang has also been accused of fostering a sexist work culture on multiple occasions. Yang calls fellow mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia at least once a week [to remind her that he wants her on his team when he’s elected]—implying that she will not only lose the mayoral election, but also that the only position she deserves is one below Yang. Not only is this incredibly arrogant and demeaning, it’s also just plain sexist. He can’t even see Garcia as a political equal, even though she is the top polling mayoral candidate this year (recently outpolling him), and has already relegated her in his mind to working for him when, not if, he wins. If this is what’s going on inside the Yang campaign, how will his sexism influence policy making that affects millions of people?
Yang is “all celebrity, no substance.” He’s like clay—easily moldable and easily taken advantage of. His policies are nonexistent; he’s trying to build his plane as it flies. He panders to both white voters at the expense of Asian American issues. “[Insiders] feel they can pour ideas into his ear since Yang is relatively new to politics and still finding his footing on issues.” This poses a big problem since it’s quite possible that he won’t be able to make any concrete change to NYC and be once again under the influence of the ruling elite, which has traditionally dominated city politics at the expense of the poor and people of color. He is a weak candidate politically and is only coasting on his celebrity status to get votes. Policy-wise, he has nothing to offer New Yorkers, and that’s the last thing this city needs right now.
Hundreds of Asian and Pacific Islander New Yorkers sign a letter opposing Yang. (source)
Asian America Deserves Better
The frustrating thing about Andrew Yang’s candidacy for both president and mayor is that Asian America finally has someone who looks like them on a national political stage. Yes, we’ve had and still have other Asian American politicians before, but none of them have commanded the kind of presence Yang has among many members of our Chinese American communities. That’s why it is all the more frustrating that Yang, a Taiwanese American man with so much power, only manages to reinscribe pernicious racist stereotypes and promote policies that will harm the community he claims to be fighting for. He had so much potential to use his unique position as the rare Asian American political star to advance Asian American issues that have been rendered invisible for so long, but he just can’t do it. I so badly want an Asian American president and NYC mayor. But I refuse to lower my standards and settle for Andrew Yang, because he has clearly demonstrated in more ways than one that he harms our community more than he helps.
Andrew Yang is undeniably in the process of making history. In a city that has one of the largest Asian demographics in the country, his presence in such a prominent mayoral race is definitely significant. However, the Asian American community deserves better than a candidate who will just tokenize himself for white people and someone who emphasizes and reinforces our invisibility. We deserve someone who has good policy ideas that will help our city in a post-COVID world. Most of all, we deserve someone who has an understanding of the challenges our community has faced and is facing, someone “who is up-to-date with the current discourse around the Model Minority Myth’s inherent racism [...], a candidate who has the pulse of Asian American identity politics; not one who sees anti-Asian stereotypes as a chance to grab a cheap punchline.”
As nice as it would be for Andrew Yang to be NYC’s first Asian American mayor, he would need to be able to push back against the model minority myth and recognize his complicity in upholding it. He would be able to take a stand on issues that affect his community instead of selling us out for a cheap laugh. He would be able to realize that marginalized people’s problems should be fixed by the oppressors, not the oppressed. He would need to be able to form clear and concise policies that help everyone, not just the rich white elite.
Unfortunately, Andrew Yang has a long way to go before he becomes that candidate.