Andrew Yang’s reliance on the model minority myth and popularity amongst the alt-right and other white supremacists is more than concerning.
TW/CW: mentions of suicide
By Sangeetha Thanapal
Andrew Yang is one of the Democratic Party’s brightest new stars. As an Asian American tech entrepreneur, he is most recognised for his proposal of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). His supporters are the coolly nicknamed #YangGang, proud to be promoting a well-liked minority candidate with charisma and charm. He seems poised to go far in politics and, given the dearth of Asian American representation in government, this is a positive step forward.
However, there are certain things about Andrew Yang that should give us pause. For one, Yang’s record on race raises some startling questions.
Yang often employs the model minority myth. He refers to himself as the Asian guy who is good at math. This seems funny on the outset but is incredibly harmful in many ways. The trope erases other Asians, especially Southeast Asians and refugees who do not have access to resources and opportunities more available to East Asians. It is also used to deny racism against Black people‚ (look if the Asians can do it, why can’t you!) who are compared disfavorably to Asians. The model-minority myth is, at its essence, anti-Black, and therefore, essential to propping up white supremacy. Yang also uses it to justify the need for immigration, which is in itself unsettling because it seems to imply that immigrants need to be exceptional in order to be considered valuable enough to emigrate to the U.S. He later defended the use of the model minority myth to Asian American activists, saying that he didn’t believe his “jokes about Asians and math and doctors were harming anyone.”
At a time where many Chinese Americans are moving further towards the right, are displaying more conservative ideals and are at the forefront of trying to destroy affirmative action, Yang’s lack of response to pressing issues around race while playing into the model minority myth is actually feeding white supremacy in a country that does not need any more of it, and worse, from a minority candidate.
Yang seems to consistently employ anti-Black rhetoric in other ways. In a recent reaction to Shane Gillis’ anti-Chinese comments, he tweeted that “…anti-Asian racism is…more acceptable” and compared the lack of reaction over it to what he deemed as more outrage over the use of the “n” word. The use of Black people’s pain as a tool of comparison is textbook anti-Blackness. The implication that the world cares more about Black people than Asians does not hold up in reality. It is an unnecessary comparison and a false one at that. Asian Americans have piggy-backed onto civil rights movements by Black Americans in order to push their own concerns to the forefront, and to suddenly point to a supposed hyper-visibility of anti-Black racism is disingenuous. Furthermore, right after he called out this racism, he turned around and decried the firing of Gillis and referred to the event as an example of cancel culture. He even has plans to have a “conversation” with Gillis, something Yang has used to cast himself as someone who can reach out across the aisle.
Yang is clearly playing both sides. With Asians, he talks about his struggle with his racial identity but in front of white crowds, he plays the model minority who never goes far enough to actually anger white people, which is why he did not think a virulent racist should lose his job. His middle of the road approach to racism appeals to white liberals and right-wing conservatives who dislike the consequences of racism.
Furthermore, some of the things he says are straight out of the white supremacist cookbook. In one tweet, Yang talks about the mental health and death rates of white men and how deaths outnumber births amongst white people. This is a dog whistle for white supremacists because it is often used in reference to what is known as the “white replacement theory,” which holds that white people in the West are being dislodged by Black and brown immigrants. Part of this “replacement” comes in the form of fewer births of white people and all of this is a precursor to the ideology of the “white genocide.” This is part of the larger fear amongst white people that the white majority will disappear.
White replacement theory has been linked to the rise of alt-right violence. It is used by white supremacists to fan fears amongst white populations, fears which ultimately led to the election of Trump. Yang’s tweets about the death rates of white people, unfortunately, play into that existing discourse. By specifically talking about how white men are dying from suicide, he is propping up the idea that white men are special and in need of special help. This is all the more disturbing when you consider that Asian-American college students are more likely than any other race to attempt suicide, and one of the reasons is because of the pressures put on them by the model-minority myth. The urgency with which he refers to the issue of the falling white population appeals to white supremacists who themselves use the same rhetoric to push people into supporting white supremacist causes.
Yang’s appeal to white supremacist concerns seems to be working because he has a surprising amount of support from them despite being Asian. Far-right outfit Breitbart writes glowingly of him, and there are reports that Trump’s voters see him as the only Democratic candidate they would vote for. The editor of The Blaze, a notoriously conservative publication considers him the only Democrat who can beat Trump. White supremacist Richard Spencer refers to Yang as “pro-white” and continues to be full of praise for him going so far as to say that “everyone should take this man and his ideas seriously.” It is disturbing to see publications with racist, conservative leanings come close to endorsing him and for him to get adulatory recommendations from outright neo-Nazis.
East Asians are often seen as the next heirs to the white supremacy movement by white supremacists themselves and it is shocking to see this play out in an Asian Presidential candidate. It is a dangerous time for Yang to be popular amongst white supremacists, yet, Yang has not taken any serious steps to distance himself from them. Even while he calls Trump a white supremacist, he has not refused the support of his own white supremacist base. He openly courts Trump voters and talks about conservatives as people that we need to “build bridges with.”
There is an unsettlingly recurrent theme with Yang’s appeal to white supremacy which can be seen in his words, actions and the reactions of white supremacists to him. Yang himself might not be a white supremacist but he is their wet dream—an Asian who pops up whiteness and anti-Blackness. Racism does not require conscious intent, all it needs is for people to participate in discourse that upholds racist rhetoric and structures—which Andrew Yang is doing.
You don’t have to be white to be complicit in white supremacy.
For an Asian candidate, he speaks surprisingly little about structural racism. This is a minority candidate who cares so little about race that he does not even have a formal committee within his campaign to help him present responses to issues of race. If Yang wants to be the minority candidate he needs to speak to minority issues, and whether he likes it or not, the most fundamental of these is race. Instead, Yang dismisses the concerns of Asian Americans and seems more interested in speaking to and mollifying his white base.
It is alarming to see how the first Asian American Presidential candidate is coming to power— by stepping on Black people and appealing to white interests. It is time for an Asian candidate on the national stage, but one who employs anti-Black rhetoric while having the support of white supremacists shouldn’t be it.
Sangeetha Thanapal is an artist and writer working on the intersections of race, gender and body in Asia and Australia. She is the originator of the term ‘Chinese Privilege,’ which situates institutionalized racism within Singapore. Her fantasy fiction and political writing have been published by Djed Press, Brown Girl Mag and many more. Her website is here and she can be found everywhere @kaliandkalki.