On Thursday morning, New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang took to CNN to slam a media outlet for depicting him in a political cartoon earlier this week that he dubbed a “racialized caricature” that he believes dangerously plays on the "idea of Asian Americans as permanent tourists and outsiders."
These are dangerous times for the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
What media outlet, you may ask, in 2021 could think that relying on racial stereotypes to depict an Asian American is OK — and then double down on the choice when called out? The answer is, surprisingly enough, The New York Daily News. I say it’s surprising because the outlet presumably knows better, according to a track record of repeatedly calling out former President Donald Trump in the past for his racist rhetoric about immigrants.
So far, this week has proved otherwise.
On Monday, the New York Daily News cartoonist tweeted his political cartoon for the paper, which depicts Yang, currently one of the leaders in New York City's mayoral race, with slits for eyes and buck teeth. In the illustration, Yang is being called a “tourist” by white store owners.
On Tuesday, the Daily News published the image, after first tweaking the cartoon Yang’s eyes because, as a Daily News editor noted, “people reacted badly to how Yang’s eyes were drawn.” But the editor still defended the concept of the cartoon, stating the point was to highlight "major gaps in his" — meaning Yang’s — "knowledge of New York City politics and policy."
These are dangerous times for the Asian American Pacific Islander community. There has been a frightening spike in hate crimes and incidents against Asian Americans, with New York City seeing the biggest jump of all major cities. The editors at The New York Daily News absolutely know that, having recently published numerous articles detailing alleged hate crimes directed against the AAPI community in the city. In fact, on Monday, the paper ran an article about an apparent hate crime against an Asian man on the NYC subway.
The New York Times has reported a bone-chilling number of anti-Asian hate incidents recorded nationwide in the last year: more than 6,600. In response to this wave of hatred, last week President Joe Biden signed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to protect the AAPI community from further attacks, declaring, “Hate has no place in America.”
Members of the AAPI community were swift to slam the image as furthering dangerous stereotypes for suggesting Yang was an outsider to New York City, a place he has lived for 25 years and raised his family.
This is not the conversation we should be having. Definitely not at a time when the AAPI community is still weathering a wave of hate crimes.
Journalist Ann Curry tweeted, “Political cartoons have long been used to otherize Asian Americans as slanty-eyed outsiders. This plays to those same inaccurate stereotypes @NYDailyNews, which in this moment is also potentially dangerous.” The AAPI Victory Alliance tweeted similar concerns, saying, “This is disgusting and wrong. Every single day Asian Americans have to fight the notion that we are foreigners.”
Susan Kang, a professor of political science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and who is Asian American, told The Daily Beast that the cartoon regardless of the intent was still “hurtful,” adding that “there’s a lot of stuff on social media about how people with Asian heritage feel marginalized based on their appearance.”
Evelyn Yang, Andrew Yang’s wife, who has been an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and for families with children who have disabilities, during a press conference on Tuesday criticized the cartoon, at times appearing to fight off tears.
“Not only does this dehumanize Asians, it promotes racism against them,” she said, the New York Post reported. “Every time you make a joke about Andrew not being a New Yorker, you are telling Asian Americans that they don’t belong.”
“What message does this send to all the Asians who are afraid to go outside?” she said.
One of Yang’s opponents in the race for New York City mayor, attorney and former MSNBC contributor Maya Wiley, tweeted, “This is an offensive cartoon and we all have an obligation to call it out. #StopAsianHate.”
If a media outlet wants to allege that a candidate for office doesn’t have a grasp of the facts — rightly or wrongly — that is obviously fair game. What is wrong is trying to make that point by trafficking in dangerous stereotypes. This is not the conversation we should be having. Definitely not at a time when the AAPI community is still weathering a wave of hate crimes.
When Biden signed the law addressing anti-Asian hate crimes last week, he instructively stated, “Of all the good that the law can do, we have to change our hearts.”
He’s right. One way to do that is ensuring a famed newspaper like The New York Daily News is not furthering — intentionally or not — the wrongful notion that Asian Americans are outsiders. The question now is: Will the Daily News do the right thing and apologize? Or will it continue to mimic the conduct of Trump, a man it slammed for years, and keep doubling down on its wrongful action?