Andrew Yang and Identity Politics

A woke writer grapples with post-racial politics

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by: Saagar Enjeti

The New York Times has published a new piece on Andrew Yang, his Asian identity, and the state of the 2020 democratic race. I confess I entered the piece ready to find another woke writer decrying Yang for not being Asian enough or being white-washed because he refuses to talk about identity politics.

In my defense this is because it’s exactly what they did the last time the subject arose during the SNL debacle.

You can watch our takedown of that incident here:

This time around however was an admittedly woke writer grappling with an interview a former Trump supporter gave in which he said he would support Yang. The writer marveled at the fact that the white Trump supporter cared about Yang’s economic message and didn’t appear to give a damn about the businessman’s Asian identity.

You can almost hear the tortured reaction to this excerpt:

I sent this video to my Asian friends in the media. It stirred in me an embarrassing pride: Here was a central-casting Trump voter who not only endorsed an Asian-American man for president but also considered him the solution to widespread corruption. But of course this pride was silly — nostalgia for an era when the occasional “Ebony and Ivory” moment marked actual progress.

The writer spends some time going through the typical tropes used to smear non-woke Asians (like myself) implying that their genial manner and lack of misery is because we’re so desperate to be accepted by white culture. See this example:

For Asian-Americans, Hsu points out, guys like this are familiar, and they are seen as insiders, for the ease with which they can blend into white culture. Yang grew up as one of the only Asians in his hometown, enduring racial abuse and bullying, and you can still spot defense mechanisms in the pragmatic, almost dismissive way he talks about identity today. When Asians like this enter elite workplaces, where they are again surrounded by white people, they tend to use such mechanisms to great effect: They are the so-called model-minority Asians who are “like everyone else,” who don’t “play the race card,” who know how to assure others that they belong. 

The writer confesses that he himself has been troubled by Yang’s lighthearted jokes about math as playing into Asian stereotypes noting that those like himself

“write and talk about race for a living, crafting provocative deconstructions of power and privilege, have always associated ourselves with some vaguely defined insurgency against a racist reality; regardless of where we work, whether at Harvard or at The New York Times, we locate ourselves first through our identities, and only then through our work and the financial freedoms it affords.”

Then however it dawns upon him while reading an LA Times article about Yang being lambasted by woke Asian critics that he knew all of the people involved:

I was struck by something. I knew almost everyone involved, including the column’s author, Frank Shyong, a dear friend. And it seemed to me that there wasn’t a single observer, especially among Asian-Americans, who wouldn’t see most of the people there as the insiders — professionals with enviable educations who use their influence to push ideas about identity derived, in large part, from the cultural-studies programs of elite universities.

He continues:

When you focus on questions like which Hollywood actors get to play fictional characters, or organize meetings where people with fancy jobs steer a presidential candidate toward their views, anyone who professes not to care about any of these things can easily be anointed a bold outsider

He finally delivers a death knell to his own idealogy when he poses a question that answers itself:

People know what those focused on identity would prefer Yang to say, and some seem to admire his quiet refusal to say it. What does that tell us about the ubiquity of these ideas and their possible expiration date?

I found this entire journey for a person obviously steeped in critical race theory fascinating and heartening in a way. If such people had true primacy in our politics then we would find no solace. How else can we possibly coexist in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, class stratified society of 300 million people and growing.

The relentless positivity of Andrew Yang offers us one way out of the abyss. I talked about this in a previous monologue you can watch here: