Black Agenda Report - April 15, 2020

Yang’s hope that Asian-Americans fight racism by marrying themselves to American exceptionalism is nothing more than an attempt to maintain his own economic privileges.

“Yang’s insistence that Asian-Americans drape themselves in the American flag is particularly egregious.”

In an op-ed published April 1st, former Democratic Party presidential candidate Andrew Yang commented on the increase in racist assaults against Asian-Americans occurring across the country in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Yang argued that Asian-Americans can best respond to racism by appealing to white America and becoming an even stronger fixture within the social order. According to Yang, Asian Americans

“…need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need 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. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”

In other words, Asian-Americans should respond to their oppressors with loyal service to the oppressive system that produces, fuels, and protects racist state violence. Anti-colonial theorist, revolutionary, and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon argued in Black Skin, White Masks that colonized people are conditioned to view white colonial culture as the standard for humanity. Andrew Yang’s suggestions for the Asian-American community clearly indicate that the entrepreneur of Taiwanese origin has been wearing the white mask that Fanon referenced all along.

“Fanon argued that colonized people are conditioned to view white colonial culture as the standard for humanity.”

Fanon had not yet fully grasped the class dimensions of colonialism in Black Skin, White Masks. Andrew Yang is not only a representative of the Asian-American community but also a capitalist and an entrepreneur. His proposal for a monthly “Freedom Dividend” of $1,000  to every American always carried with it the guarantee that a value added tax would replace an unidentified number of meager social welfare programs such as SNAP. The mainly white Yang Gang was immediately enamored at the idea of an extra $1,000 in their pockets. However, Andrew Yang’s largely libertarian approach to politics ensured that he would throw his weight behind the political favorite of the Democratic Party establishment in Joe Biden.

Yang’s attempt to get out in front of anti-Asian racism provides insight into the Democratic Party’s own variation of white supremacist political thought. White supremacy in the United States takes on a particularly pernicious form in the 21st century within the Democratic Party. Instead of carrying ideological water for the Ku Klux Klan, Democratic Party donors and politicians espouse a politics of respectability and cultivate political leaders from oppressed communities to serve their interests. This is most pronounced in Black America. After the U.S. intelligence apparatus and Washington at large violently suppressed the Black liberation movement two generations ago, the Democratic Party encouraged the development of a Black political class that was fully loyal to the dictates of capitalism and imperialism. As James Foreman Jr. explained in his seminal text, Locking Up Our Own, Black politicians in the 1980s and 1990s were on the frontlines in the advocacy of policies that built the mass incarceration regime currently wreaking havoc on poor Black American communities.

“Democratic Party encouraged the development of a Black political class that was fully loyal to the dictates of capitalism and imperialism.”

Top-down diversity and inclusion programs have always served as window dressing for the consolidation of neoliberal politics in a period where centuries of anti-colonial struggle had shifted the political conversation in ways that forced the ruling class to reform the imperial superstructure. While Andrew Yang doesn’t necessarily arise from the bowels of the Democratic Party elite, his response to anti-Asian racism in the era of COVID-19 certainly does. The Democratic Party has long become the engine of American exceptionalism. Color-blind racism is a critical element of American exceptionalism. The diversification of the Democratic Party establishment has occurred alongside the development of a color-blind narrative that presumes the party apparatus, and indeed the United States as a whole, has overcome the worst manifestations of racism. When racism is exposed within the structure of U.S. imperialism, it is assumed that the Democratic Party side of the state apparatus has no role in its development.

Andrew Yang’s insistence that Asian-Americans drape themselves in the American flag is particularly egregious since it reinforces racist stereotypes of the Asian-American community. Asian-Americans have always been viewed by the U.S. as political pawns within a larger imperialist chessboard. Beginning in the late 19th century, the United States developed a two-tiered immigration system to superexploit the labor of certain Asian countries on the one hand while demonizing the peoples migrating to the U.S. on the other. U.S. capitalists viewed Chinese migrant workers, for example, as nothing but another form of slave labor and passed legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882  to codify anti-Asian racism into policy. U.S. imperialism would attempt to rescue reactionary and pro-colonial forces in countries like China (leading to the U.S.’ three decade long diplomatic recognition of Taiwan rather than the People’s Republic of China), Vietnam, and Korea after progressive revolutions overthrew the colonial order. 

“The diversification of the Democratic Party establishment presumes the party apparatus has overcome the worst manifestations of racism.”

The U.S.’ desire to perpetuate racialized terror around the world and suffocate socialism on the mainland of Asia spurred [the “Model Minority” myth](https://depts.washington.edu/sibl/Publications/Model%20Minority%20Section%20(2011%29.pdf)  and the idea that Asian-Americans of certain bourgeois class backgrounds were the most desirable of all the non-white groups. Despite being far from a monolithic section of the U.S. population, Asian-Americans have long been stereotyped as passive, loyal servants of the American Dream. Their existence within the settler colonial United States has been defined by economic achievement on the one hand and dehumanization on the other. Asian-Americans are intelligent “gooks,” clever “Japs,” and wealthy “chinks.” Such a contradiction not only erases the fact that many Asian-American communities live in poverty  but also minimizes the extent to which anti-Asian racism is used as a bulwark against socialism at home and abroad.

Anti-Asian racism is not a failure of assimilation as Yang suggests. The scourge of racism fueled the super-exploitation of Chinese migrants in the late 19th century as the U.S. utilized the East as its so-called “Open Door.” U.S. military invasions of Korea and Vietnam were justified by the assumption that the peoples of these nations were being manipulated into following the path of the Soviet Union and China. The high praise that U.S. politicians and corporate media give to Asian-Americans does not benefit the community, but rather serves to maintain a settler colonial melting pot where Black Americans drown at the bottom and get burned the most by the flames of imperialism. Asian-America, as a political identity, provides a buffer between the humanized white ruling class and the dehumanized masses in Black America, Native America, and the oppressed around the world. Andrew Yang’s hope that Asian-Americans fight racism by marrying themselves to American exceptionalism is nothing more than attempt to maintain his own economic privileges and those collected by his class from the crumbs of a depraved empire.

“Asian-Americans have long been stereotyped as passive, loyal servants of the American Dream.”

As an Asian-American myself, I was raised under the social pressures that the dominant mode of production places upon the community. Expected to achieve but to not become too vocal, there was an always-present expectation to watch my fellow working class Black American and Latino American neighbors suffer from the maladies of economic strangulation and social discrimination in silence. I was supposed to ignore the history and culture of Vietnam because America was the gold standard. As I faced violence from white peers based on my “gook” status and watched Black American peers fall to premature death, it eventually became clear that the system of white supremacy rested upon a capitalist class structure dedicated to exploitation and oppression. I realized that an embrace of American exceptionalism was both a form of political suicide and opportunism that carried deadly consequences for the oppressed everywhere. Craven opportunism in the face of injustice is exactly what Yang is encouraging when he demands Asian-Americans who have experienced racist violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic pledge their allegiance to the United States of America.

The need to ignore Andrew Yang passed long ago. Forget that the U.S. placed Japanese Americans within internment camps for a large portion of World War II even as they fought (and were forced to fight) for the U.S. side or that millions of people of Asian origin have died because of U.S. wars in the last seventy years alone. Andrew Yang was advertised as an independent-minded politician, an outsider whose Universal Basic Income proposal was marginalized by the establishment. Many white leftists embraced Yang. But Yang from the beginning appeased white Americans by promoting racial stereotypes such as being “good at math.” Once his campaign ran out of gas, he took a job for CNN and endorsed warmonger and Wall Street servant Joe Biden. 

“I was supposed to ignore the history and culture of Vietnam because America was the gold standard.”

Andrew Yang was never a friend to Asian-Americans or anyone else in the working class. The best antidote to anti-Asian racism is to challenge it directly by developing solidarity with China and the rest of world’s people facing the scourge of white supremacy in this time of crisis. U.S. elites peddle anti-China racism shamelessly as part of their imperial strategy to contain China’s rise on the world stage. Solidarity with China is critical toward preventing a U.S. war and increasing the likelihood that basic needs for protective equipment and healthcare are met right here in the United States. This is especially important for Black Americans who are dying at disproportionate rates from COVID-19.  Anti-China sentiment not only leads to racist violence but also gives the capitalist elite a pass to fleece the working class and produce the conditions that gave way to the spread of the virus on the U.S. mainland. No amount of service and “coming together” as Americans can change these facts—but a movement to destroy the foundations of imperialist America, can.

Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached atwakeupriseup1990@gmail.com, on Twitter@spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong