Businessman Andrew Yang laments that he’s one of few Democrats of color still in the presidential race. But he also makes light of his heritage with jokes about how he’s good at math and knows “a lot of doctors.”
On Monday at the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum in Des Moines, he told VICE News that jokes can be a helpful way to address racist stereotypes.
“Making light of these stereotypes and dragging them into the light is not a bad thing,” Yang said. “By poking fun at these things, we can actually see them for how ridiculous they are.”
But those comments have also contributed to him being a somewhat polarizing figure among other Asian-Americans.
Yang has previously been criticized by some who say his comments reinforce the “model minority” stereotype, which broadly paints Asians as overachieving do-gooders and Latinos and African-Americans as less deserving.
For his part, Yang said Monday the “model minority myth obscures the vast diversity in the Asian-American community,” and that he doesn’t think anyone believes his “offhand remarks” reflect the viewpoints of every Asian person. The 45-year-old Taiwanese-American, who previously avoided delving into race issues, noted that he was the only person of color on the December debate stage, and also addressed the group of white supremacists that seemed to align with his so-called “Yang Gang” — mostly through memes on internet forums — last year.
“I was stunned to hear anyone who has any kind of hateful ideology in their hearts would support me, because I certainly don’t look like the poster boy for white supremacy,” Yang said, adding later that he’d fight to designate white nationalism as terrorism. Yang predictably pivoted several times to his central campaign issue — a universal basic income, which he refers to as a “Freedom Dividend.” He said that doling out $1,000 a month to billionaires and poor people alike, while it wouldn’t fix racism, could lessen some of the economic fears that may fuel it.
“If you have an environment of shrinking opportunities, it’s much easier to turn on each other,” he said.
The Freedom Dividend, according to Yang’s website, would have Americans choose between certain means-tested welfare programs and the monthly cash. That, in part, would pay for the program — on top of a value-added tax. Some scholars argue this sort of universal basic income would actually exacerbate the wealth gap.
Yang pushed back on that assessment by saying that “in a vacuum, a value-added tax does end up falling on people who are starting out with less money.” His policy, however, would address this by ratcheting it up “on things like artificial intelligence, and yachts, and luxury watches,” while things like “diapers, milk, and toilet paper” could be exempted.
“I’m a very data-driven guy, but I am 100% confident that putting $40 billion-plus in the hands of black and brown communities every month is going to be a major positive,” Yang said. “If we learn things from it during that time — that we can make it even better — I will be all for it. But I’m talking about the wholesale eradication of poverty in our society.”
Cover: Businessman Andrew Yang at the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Forum in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 20, 2020. (Photo: Justin Hayworth/VICE News)