Please stop with the Asian jokes, Andrew Yang

20 Sep

I want to clarify that my previous post was in no way an endorsement of Andrew Yang as any kind of authority on what’s funny and what’s not. I just liked his specific comment about preferring humor “that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots.”

Which is actually odd, coming from Yang of all people, whom you may be aware, is constantly taking his own cheap shots at Asians with his self-references through stereotypes: I love math, I know a lot of doctors, I like tests.

When asked by Politico yesterday “whether he’ll keep telling Asian jokes, which have offended some people,” Yang responded:

“We’re a very diverse community and if Asian-Americans disagree with my response to a particular issue or a joke I tell, that’s something I would expect and accept. You know, that that’s what happens in a diverse community. I don’t see any reason to dramatically change anything.”

I don’t see any reason for Yang to change, either. Because, apparently, he has no idea what he’s doing. Yang doesn’t understand the racist formulation of the “model minority” myth that he’s trading in: that these tropes of Asian smarts and success are meant to keep Asians in line, to degrade other people of color and to justify the real myth: that the US is a level and fair playing field for all ethnoracial groups.

That much is clear in Yang’s use of the word “diverse”: to suggest that Asian-Americans are just different from each other–not that we are disparate in our status and access to resources and opportunities. Even now, “Asian” as a term tends to privilege East Asians, marginalizing South Asians, Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders. (The acronym “APISA” is used to signal inclusion of these groups, because you can’t count on “Asian” to do so, given its usage historically.) Through his cheap shot, “model minority” jokes, it’s clear that Yang’s idea of the “Asian-American” community is more exclusive than inclusive.

Yang’s apparent lack of historical, social and (ironically) political understanding about his identity as an Asian-American makes it unsurprising that he “doesn’t see any reason” to stop taking his own cheap shots, even if he sees a reason for Shane McGillis to.

But Yang really needs to stop. He may not get it, but there’s a difference between making an “Asians are good at math” joke in the privacy of his own home among his friends and family, and making that same joke on the national stage while running for President, even while it’s simultaneously true that no matter where you make that joke, you’re perpetuating racist ideas, attitudes and ultimately impacts. If he doesn’t understand the power of his podium, and if he can’t imagine that other US Americans aren’t just “different” from him and may not just “disagree” about what’s funny but be mortally impacted by words that are just jokes to him, then I hope someone offers to “sit down and talk” with him, so he might learn.  In fact, I’m offering right now.

I would hope to learn something, too. I’d love to understand his perspective and share mine. And I’d love for us to share some facts: about racism, about privilege, about the APISA community, about how identity matters when you tell a joke about another or “your own” group, and about what it takes to be antiracist.

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