Amelie Lee ’23
April 17, 2020
When I saw the headline for Andrew Yang’s op-ed in The Washington Post, I was ready to get on board. “We Asian Americans are not the virus, but we can be part of the cure,” he wrote.
Would he be encouraging Asian Americans to actively promote some of the strategies Taiwan or South Korea have employed in battling coronavirus? Would he aggressively condemn racism and violence against Asian Americans? After all, while hardly a perfect candidate, as the first major Asian American presidential candidate Yang did raise pertinent discussions of Universal Basic Income and was a much needed articulate and intelligent political figure at the federal level.
Unfortunately, two months after dropping out of the race, Yang let the Asian American community down. During a global pandemic where Asian Americans have been the target of harassment and physical abuse, Yang’s op-ed encourages Asian Americans to strive to erase our cultural identity in an attempt to appease racists. Yang writes “I obviously think that being racist is not a good thing. But saying ‘Don’t be racist toward Asians’ won’t work.” Instead, Yang recommends us to “step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis.”
In short, Yang’s solution to hate crimes against Asian Americans is to assuage racists that we’re just like any other American.
Sure, it’s important that every member of the community steps up in any way possible, but the idea that the only way to combat racism is to partake in American nationalism completely undermines our identities and does nothing to combat racism in the slightest.
In the words of Asian American actor Simu Liu, “At a time where Asian diaspora from around the world are experiencing massive racism and discrimination, Andrew Yang basically just told us to suck it up, eat a cheeseburger and buy an American flag.” I have to agree. I doubt that wearing a red white and blue shirt would have prevented Asian Americans from being featured on every article about coronavirus spreading in the USA, or would have prevented physical assaults of Asian Americans at grocery stores.
Yang’s op-ed is almost comical in how blind it is to the racial realities of this pandemic. Nowhere does he mention the World Health Organization’s unwillingness to include Taiwan despite the country’s success in coronavirus containment. Nowhere does he encourage Asian Americans to defend their culture amidst constant blame being assigned to Chinese eating habits. Not once does he mention how to discuss China’s falsified reports without blaming Chinese individuals, or the initial dismissal of the Asian standard or mask-wearing that could have prevented spread. Instead, he blatantly ignores the complex issues that we’re facing in this crisis.
Asian Americans aren’t being blamed for coronavirus because we’re not American enough. We’re being blamed because of longstanding racist perceptions that Asians are dirty.
Nationalism simply isn’t a solution for racism and scapegoating during an international national crisis. America’s most prominent Asian American figure neglected to provide any semblance of support to our community in these desperate times.
Among the failures of Yang’s article, the most disappointing line reads, “During World War II, Japanese Americans volunteered for military duty at the highest possible levels to demonstrate that they were Americans.” Yang contends that the appropriate response to your community losing their constitutional rights and – being placed in internment camps – is to participate in the very structures that oppress you. In an attempt to prove the idea that nationalism is an effective tool against racism, Yang erases the unjust history of Asian American oppression and condones the horrifying behavior of the American government during World War II.
The solution to combat racism is not for Asian Americans to submit to the model minority myth. We cannot afford to perpetuate the dangerous and exploitative idea that obedience to American nationalism should be the default reaction by those experiencing oppression in a time of crisis. The “American-ness” we should be mobilizing should be our freedom to voice discomfort with the way things are, and embracing our culture while facing ignorance and misplaced blame.
Image Credit: CNBC