Evolving Political Narratives

By Izzy Zhang | Potomac

"The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math!"

MATH, an acronym for "Make America Think Harder," is one of Andrew Yang's primary campaign slogans. Conscious of the preconceptions surrounding Asian Americans, Yang has used his identity to gain popularity in unconventional ways. He humorously embraces "model minority" stereotypes, perceiving them as a shared joke rather than a misconception to be corrected. In an NPR interview, Yang lightheartedly attributed his unwelcoming resting face to his natural "Asian stoicism." When asked about healthcare reform during the Democratic debate last September, Yang began his response with: "Now, I am Asian, so I do know a lot about doctors."

The way that Yang has chosen to lean into stereotypes has created tension among members of the Asian community. In an article for the LA Times, journalist Frank Xiang wrote: "Seeing Yang up on the Democratic primary debate stage should have been a thrilling milestone for me as a fellow Taiwanese American. But when I heard him use model-minority stereotypes to describe himself, it was hard to feel proud. He still felt that the most practical use of his identity on a national stage was as a joke." Others commend Yang for his unique sense of humor, applauding his resistance against identity politics and political correctness.

Yang's unprecedented use of his ethnicity to appeal to voters nationwide serves as an interesting case study for how minority candidates can harness common stereotypes to their advantage. With bold policies and controversial tactics, Yang has become one of the most prominent Asian-American political figures in US history. And it's not just Yang: Asian-Americans are gradually becoming more represented in government, resulting in increased civic involvement. A study by the Census Bureau found that Asian turnout increased nationwide from 27 percent in 2014 to 41 percent in 2018, a year when dozens of Asian-American or Pacific Islander candidates ran for Congress.

Representation and involvement of minority groups have powerful — albeit often unnoticed — ramifications for both minorities themselves and society as a whole. Growing up, I subconsciously felt a sense of disconnection with American politics and was thus minimally engaged. Where did I, a young Asian girl, belong in a process primarily dominated by old, caucasian men? Yet with increased gender and racial diversity in recent elections, I found myself being able to identify with candidates for the first time. Regardless of whether or not I supported these candidates, simply seeing people I identified with caused me to be more interested and engaged in the political process.

Indeed, diverse representation brings unique perspectives that can elevate society. Yang's slogan of "MATH" may just seem like a humorous quip at Asian stereotypes. However, it also draws attention to how elements of Asian culture, such as a deep-rooted emphasis on pragmatism and objectivity, can benefit American politics, particularly in a time of polarization and partisanship.