Andrew Yang Draws Controversy for his Handling of Asian Stereotypes

A number of people may have the unwarranted impression that positive stereotypes about a minority community can be beneficial to that community, as they think that portraying an entire group of people in a positive, if narrow, light can help that community to succeed. However, this impression is far from the truth, as even stereotypes of communities as being hard-working and intelligent can lead to negative consequences not just for members of the community in question, but for other communities to which so-called “model minorities” can be compared. Though it may not be obvious to people not well-educated about the history of racism in the United States, positive minority stereotypes have long been used as a tool to disenfranchise and alienate minority races in a number of ways.

The question of how positive stereotypes can cause offense and harm has been brought to the forefront recently as a result of democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s casual invocation of Asian stereotypes on the campaign trail. One of Yang’s catchphrases, “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” invokes a well-worn Asian stereotype, and during the third Democratic debate he quipped “I’m Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.” While supporters of Yang and Yang himself view these comments about his race as playful in-group references, others have seen these remarks as inappropriate and demonstrating ignorance of the harm Asian stereotypes have caused historically.

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Yang has also drawn controversy lately for his reaction to being referred to with a racist slur by comedian and former SNL writer Shane Gillis who on a podcast called Yang a “Jew c—-k.” Gillis was fired for this and other racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks, prompting Yang to comment that while he found the insult hurtful, he did not think Gillis should lose his job and invited Gillis to have a conversation with him about the controversy, which Gillis accepted. Yang further commented that he had experienced a lot of anti-Asian sentiment over the course of his life and felt that discrimination against Asians was not taken as seriously as discrimination against other groups in America, but that in 2019 people have grown excessively sensitive about issues of race in some circumstances. Gillis did not apologize for this and other remarks, instead arguing that it is his job as a comedian to push boundaries, but commented that he respected NBC’s decision to remove him from the cast of SNL.

While Yang has fared better than other presidential contenders when it comes to discussing the issue of race, his repeated invocations of his own race on the campaign trail may come back to haunt him as the primary progresses.

Despite Yang’s willingness to open up a dialogue with Gillis about race, the candidate has drawn criticism for how we went about handling the controversy. Li Zhou, for instance, thinks that Yang’s frequent references to math and other stereotypical aspects of his Asian identity “[set] the tone for how many people may see Asian Americans and [perpetuate] a damaging caricature in the process.” Zhou points out that while stereotypes of Asian Americans tend to focus on intelligence and propensity for success in professional and academic environments, these characterizations have caused harm not only for Asian Americans but for other communities as well. According to Zhou, these stereotypes obscure diversity in the community, leading people to believe that all Asians have the same talents and interests, and Yang’s use of them panders to a white electorate which may be inclined to racist judgments. 

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Zhou also alludes to the history of the immigration of Asians to America and how their integration into American life led to the development of harmful stereotypes. In a 1966 op-ed piece published in the New York Times, sociologist William Petersen hailed Japanese-Americans as being the “model minority,” arguing that despite being the object of discrimination, this group of people has achieved a great degree of success relative to other “problem minorities,” a thinly-veiled attack on African Americans. This analysis, Zhou points out, fails to take into consideration the structural racism experienced by black people throughout American history as well as the fact that there were strict restrictions on immigrants from Asia to the United States, as only immigrants with a certain degree of educational or professional achievement were allowed to enter. The myth of the model minority, Zhou argues, is used to pit minorities against each other and further disenfranchise the individuals affected most by racism.

Yang’s comparison of society’s treatment of racist slurs targeting Asians versus those targeting other minorities also ignited criticism, as Yang observed that slurs like the n-word are treated more seriously than those against people like him. For this comment, Yang was accused of taking advantage of racism against black people for his own political ends and unfairly comparing the type of racism he experiences to the type of racism others experience, falsely implying an equivalency. While Yang has fared better than other presidential contenders when it comes to discussing the issue of race, his repeated invocations of his own race on the campaign trail may come back to haunt him as the primary progresses.

Climate Change

Democratic Candidates Compete to Provide Best Climate Change Plan

Although the Republican Party continues to hold the unique view that climate change is a hoax, or that it’s not a big problem, or that it’s unrelated to human activity, Democratic candidates are incorporating their plans for dealing with the “climate crisis” into their campaign platforms. After the DNC declined the suggestion to host a climate-themed debate, CNN stepped in, hosting a town hall on September 4th during which ten Democratic candidates were given the opportunity to articulate in detail their plans to cut back emissions, expand renewable energy, and execute other initiatives to battle the crisis. Though each candidate tried to differentiate themselves with a unique spin on their climate plan, all ten candidates offered an approach that wildly differed from the Republican Party establishment, which is currently in the process of rolling back regulations designed to limit carbon emissions and protect the environment from further destruction.

Although the town hall format of CNN’s event wasn’t quite the head-to-head debate activists had asked the DNC for, in some ways the event proved to be more useful for voters, as the event lasted a whopping 7 hours and gave voters the opportunity to ask tough questions on a subject that tends to get ignored in the traditional debate format. 

On certain subjects, the candidates were in strong agreement. They agreed that climate change was a threat to the existence of not only the United States, but of human civilization, that the US should rejoin the Paris climate accord, that reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 was necessary, and that radical and unprecedented policies would have to be implemented in order to get us there. But they disagreed about which policies, exactly, would be the best for the country.

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One of the more popular policy proposals among the candidates was a carbon tax, which is notable because politicians have been arguing for decades that placing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions would drive up the price of fuel and stifle the economy, hurting American consumers. A carbon tax, however, is widely considered one of the most effective potential policies for cutting back on pollution. Candidates differed on the specifics; while Sanders’ $16.3 trillion plan does not call for a carbon tax, Biden and Warren incorporate a carbon tax into their proposals, and Yang calls for a tax at $40 per ton of carbon, which would help to fund his Universal Basic Income proposal and initiatives to increase the efficiency of fossil fuels and increase the availability of renewable resources.

Although Governor Jay Inslee did not attend the town hall, as he recently dropped out of the presidential race, his presence was felt throughout the event. The governor ran on a climate-focused platform, arguing that it was by far the most important issue currently facing the country, and had the earliest and most detailed plan for fighting climate change. Elizabeth Warren invoked Inslee’s name specifically, explaining that she had incorporated several elements of his plan into her own. Joe Biden’s staff also planned a meeting with Inslee’s staff to discuss climate policy, and Biden pledged not to accept money from donors from the fossil fuel industry. Biden also emphasized his experience in dealing with international affairs, citing his personal relationships with several other world leaders and noting that climate change is a problem that can only be addressed via cooperation between nations.

Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg also pledged to implement a carbon tax, with Harris also proposing a ban on fracking. Some candidates strictly opposed the use of natural gas, while others viewed it as a necessary stepping stone between the use of oil and of renewable sources of energy. Perhaps the most divisive topic of the night was nuclear energy; some candidates, including Sanders, argue against the use of nuclear power, citing the problems of storing radioactive wastes and the threat of nuclear accidents, while others, including Yang, argue that nuclear energy is an essential component of transitioning to a carbon-free future, and that newer technology allows nuclear power plants to be safer and produce less waste. 

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In particular, Yang’s plan is notable because it goes further than reducing carbon emissions to discuss how to prepare for the predicted negative effects of climate change. Yang proposes investing in initiatives to move people to higher ground, away from the coasts, as coastal cities are the most likely to be devastated by rising sea levels and a growing intensity of extreme weather events. He also proposes investments in geoengineering, including capturing carbon, planting trees to rebuild forests, injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight, and installing mirrors in space to reflect sunlight. The fact that these proposals deal with the bleak possibility of surrendering to the reality of climate change, combined with the impression they given of sounding more like science-fiction than reality, means that other candidates are hesitant to explore this territory of climate policy. 

Many of the candidates instead chose to focus on the economic opportunities created by investing in clean energy solutions. The candidates claim that expanding the country’s usage of solar and wind would create millions of jobs. Economists, however, warn that the lofty goals candidates set for job creation are just estimates, and that it’s difficult to predict exactly how exactly the job market would react to such a drastic shift in priorities. One thing is for certain, however: whether or not the United States takes bold action to address the climate crisis, drastic change is coming, whether that be in the form of a major reimagining of our energy systems or the destruction of the environment resulting from global inaction.

Podium Speaker

Andrew Yang Stands Out in a Crowded Field

Andrew Yang is not a typical presidential candidate. For one, his signature campaign promise, at first glance, seems patently absurd – if elected, he promises to institute what he calls the “Freedom Dividend,” a promise to give every American adult $1,000 a month, for free, no strings attached.