The Racist Othering of Andrew Yang | Opinion

This week, The New York Daily News printed a caricature of Andrew Yang as a dorky, short, slanty-eyed tourist. He was intentionally depicted as a stranger in his own city, even though he's lived in New York City for over 25 years.

Which one is from 2021 pic.twitter.com/toNDJkHsH6

— Evelyn Yang (@EvelynYang) May 24, 2021

Though shocking, it was not the first time Yang has been smeared in this way. Throughout his 2020 presidential campaign, Yang was routinely misidentified as "John Wang." And throughout his mayoral campaign, journalists and others have made a habit of mocking him as a stranger to New York City. Just this month, "The Daily Show" launched a parody twitter account, "Andrew Yang: Real New Yorker" with Yang decorated in "I Love NY" merchandise, excitedly holding a burnt hot dog.

The message was clear: You're a stranger here.

This is a well known and deeply hurtful anti-Asian stereotype. We are constantly told that we don't belong, that we are other, that we are strangers in a strange land. These lazy and harmful tropes perpetuate a cycle of dehumanization that Asian Americans have worked hard to overcome. And still, we are constantly subjected to this kind of dehumanizing language.

We have been told to keep our head down, blend in, and not kick up a fuss, no matter what the slight or mistreatment. But ignoring these microaggressions hasn't helped us; the opposite: It's landed us in a very dangerous spot. The spiral of anti-Asian hate crimes is by now well known. Some of my neighbors are afraid to even walk out of their homes for fear of being yelled at to "go back to your country."

Andrew Yang is absorbing a large share of these abuses for obvious reasons: He might actually become the first Asian American elected mayor of New York City. He is challenging our understanding of what a New York City mayor looks like—and for that he is being picked on, teased, and mocked unmercifully.

This toxicity that we have normalized online and in-person would dissuade the best intended public servants from seeking public office—and for the record, women receive similar mistreatment at these critical choice points of progress.

Andrew Yang is well aware of the broader context we are wading through. Whenever we experience economic downturns or social unrest, Asian Americans become targets of violence and hatred. There is a long-standing connection between American foreign policy on China and racist domestic outcomes here in the U.S. Colonization, imperialism, militarization—all of it has led to a view of us as "less than," that is always then exaggerated in extremely racist cartoons.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the "othering" of Asian Americans in the halls of power is the outgrowth of a heightened narrative of racial superiority that legitimizes the ambitions of some, and dismisses the ambition of others.

When I won my seat at the state legislature, I endured countless microaggressions intended to make me feel like the "other"—like somebody who does not belong in places like Albany. One lawmaker humiliated me in an elevator in front of my staff by asking if I knew "Mr. Park," a dry cleaner in Buffalo. Another asked if I knew a hot dance like PSY. And another referred to Asian women as "dragon ladies."

They didn't directly call me a racial slur. But these microaggressions often validate the institutionalized mistreatment of Asian Americans in politics. This is why we have to call out the New York Daily News for their racist caricature of a prominent Asian American running for political office.

Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang took to Twitter on Tuesday to condemn a cartoon The Daily News published on Monday depicting him as a tourist as "racist." Here, Yang is shown answering questions from reporters during a rally at City Hall Park in Manhattan on May 24, 2021 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty

Some may argue that the Daily News was not being racist and that they have a right to question Yang's identity as a "real" New Yorker. To this I say: Find a non-racist way to do this. Because it's no excuse to perpetuate the anti-Asian stereotype that we don't belong.

Yang's insight and perspectives can add real value to this city. But the last time Andrew Yang tried to highlight his anti-poverty agenda by visiting a food pantry in Flushing, the political establishment and mainstream media pounced, portraying him as an out-of-touch outsider elite using people in poverty as props (as opposed to most other politicians who either didn't help, didn't visit, or didn't even know about this issue in the community).

With Yang's candidacy, we could have had a substantive discussion about disrupting the "model minority" myth and addressing the social and economic conditions that led to the huge inequality we're seeing in our city. Instead, his detractors keep attacking him for showing up as a "fake" candidate and demanding that he leave the race.

We Asian Americans following the news are getting the message loud and clear: You don't belong. And this dehumanization of Yang and all Asians in the media is being perpetuated by the very people trying to heal the schisms of our social unrest.

All of it needs to stop.

To those actively participating in the "othering" of Andrew Yang, this is the moment to question your internalized biases, confront our dominant cultural narratives, and raise the bar on your assumption of who belongs in power.

Andrew Yang will make a great mayor because of his status as an outsider—but not the kind you're framing him as.

Ron Kim is a New York State Assemblymember representing the 40th District.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.