Conversations about racism in America aren’t new to presidential politics, as anyone who paid attention to the presidency of America’s first black president can tell you. But many of those discussions were about the relationship between black and white Americans.

Andrew Yang is taking the nation’s conversation about race beyond just black and white and challenging more voters to consider the experiences of Asian Americans, who are part of the country’s fastest-growing ethnic group.

One example of that came during the most recent Democratic debate when Yang shared an American story not previously heard on the presidential debate stage.

“My father grew up on a peanut farm in Asia with no floor, and now his son is running for president,” he said. “That is the immigration story that we have to be able to share with the American people.”
“I am the opposite of Donald Trump in many ways,” Yang added. “He says, ‘Build a wall.’ I’m going to say to immigrants, ‘Come to America, because if you come here, your son, your daughter can run for president. The water is great. And this is where you want to build a company, build a family, and build a life.’ This country has been a magnet for human capital for generations. If we lose that, we lose something integral to our continued success, and that is where I would lead as president.”

But Yang’s most visible invoking of the experiences of some Asian Americans happened Sunday when he called out Shane Gillis, a stand-up comic with a history of racist, homophobic and sexist language who had been recently hired by SNL before losing his job amid the controversy.

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Yang tweeted that being the object of racial slurs aimed at Asian people has been a painful part of his experience as the son of Asian immigrants.

“It can be extraordinarily hurtful to feel like you are somehow not part of the only country you have ever known,” he tweeted. “I have certainly felt that — the churning sense of alienation, anger and marginalization.”

But in Yang’s pursuit of the Oval Office, he is being met with criticism for possibly being more harmful than helpful. Some argue that in the last debate, he appealed to stereotypes about Asians to solicit laughs that ultimately reinforce the stereotypical ideas about the community: While discussing health care, he quipped, “I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.”

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The joke may sound harmless, but Alton Wang, a law student and community organizer, argued in The Post that it reinforces ideas about Asian Americans that are harmful to both Asians and other people of color.

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“Yang is reinforcing the model-minority myth — the idea that some populations are substantially better off than others, particularly Asian American communities in the United States,” he wrote. “It’s a premise calibrated to make him palatable for non-Asians. But it’s also dangerous and exploitative. While Yang’s campaign purports to be a step forward for Asian Americans, his reliance on stereotypes sets us back, making it harder to grasp the struggles and dilemmas that many in our community face. In the process, he is also reinforcing more overtly negative ideas about other nonwhite communities.”

And comments Yang has made about other nonwhite communities display a lack of understanding about the challenges other people of color face in combating racism and white supremacy. In his Twitter thread about the anti-Asian racism, he was criticized for suggesting that the entertainment industry has a zero-tolerance policy for racism against black people.

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“It’s also the case that anti-Asian racism is particularly virulent because it’s somehow considered more acceptable,” he tweeted. “If Shane had used the n word the treatment would likely be immediate and clear.”

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Just as some have argued that a Trump presidency was a response to the Obama administration, one could argue that Yang’s ascension in presidential politics is a response to the Trump presidency. Americans broke records during the 2018 midterms choosing a group of racially diverse candidates to fill offices across the country. That desire to see more voices at the table that reflect the electorate continues.

But being that voice will increasingly be a challenge as Yang attempts to shed light on a real challenge experienced by many Americans while avoiding rebukes from people of color, including other Asian Americans.

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