This new year is a very important one for politics. Perhaps the most important one of our lifetime. For the Democratic party, many people have thrown their hats into the race for the presidency, coming out of the woodwork for as much as 20-person debates every month in 2019 to convince the American people why they’re the one to beat. The pack has thinned out since campaign season began mid-2019, and only the ones who really have a shot at the seat in the White House remain. In polling order at the time of writing this, they are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg.
But this group of finalists includes a wild card— an enigma by the name of Andrew Yang. The non-politician who now wants to be, you guessed it: a politician. In terms of platform points, he’s most famous for his advocacy for Universal Basic Income (UBI), specifically the distribution of a free stipend of $1,000 per month to every American via the Freedom Dividend. He, of course, also subscribes to many liberal ideals such as the legalization of marijuana, universal healthcare, and immigration reform to name a few. Yang is also a husband and father to two children, one who has special needs. His love for his family spurs his advocacy for those with disabilities and the recognition of those care for them. Oh, and I forgot to mention—he’s Asian.
So why haven’t you heard about him?
On an episode entitled “Don’t Ignore the Asian Vote in 2020” of his Netflix series Patriot Act, comedian Hasan Minhaj dedicated the hour to Yang, studying the obstacles he’s faced throughout his campaign. Despite polling high in 2019, Yang was and continues to be given the least amount of speaking time during Democratic debates. If you’re a member of the #YangGang, you’ve likely heard of Yang’s ongoing issue with MSNBC. There have been countless times when Yang was left out of an infographic on this national news platform that is supposed to give a rundown of those running for president. And no, it wasn’t a fluke—they’ve done it a dozen times. His supporters picked up on it quickly by trending the hashtag #YangMediaBlackout to make people aware of it. Still, despite qualifying for each debate, Yang’s headshot never made the cut. Even worse, MSNBC once referred to him by the wrong name, mistakenly calling him John Yang.
“Can you imagine if they just screwed up another candidate’s name? Like, would they ever say, Frank Biden? Sandra Warren.” Yang told Minhaj. “Y’know that never would happen.” Yang has even demanded an apology from the network for this blatant oversight, vowing not to go on again until he gets one. Calculated or not, not many of us are surprised that few people outside of the Asian community know who he is.
Saturday Night Live made this into a comedic bit during the first of many skits parodying the Democratic debates last year. “If you think my candidacy is going well, I’m literally giving people free money and I’m still in sixth place.” The joke prompted a good laugh from me when I watched the skit for the first time, but a part of me was saddened by the reality of the punchline. To add insult to injury, I hurt for a guy simply doing his best and putting everything on the line, even stepping down as CEO of his own company—only for people to not give him a chance.
This isn’t to say SNL is innocent by its humor in comparison to MSNBC—the two seem to be repeat offenders. The show has made Andrew Yang the butt of many stereotypical jokes and ignored him altogether in a fashion similar to mainstream media—and there have been other jabs at him. Lines about his affinity for technology and virtual reality (not participating in the debate and putting a headset on) are glaringly similar to the myth that all Asian people are “nerds” and are exclusively concerned with STEM-related fields. Yang tends to reclaim this stereotype, though: on the debate stage, Yang has prefaced answers with things like “I’m Asian so I know plenty of doctors” and “the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian guy who likes math."
The real truth is that Yang actually subverts stereotypes, having authored his own nonprofit, Venture for America. VFA provides career-building resources in hopes of getting their clients to start their own business. This idea of helping people help themselves seems to be a motif in his presidential campaign. He is, after all, proposing that every American be given $1,000 per month to replace welfare systems and create a basic income that can alleviate the nation of poverty. He’s also personally giving this monthly $1,000 to people right now to prove that it can empower Americans. People like to talk about Bernie’s tenacity to the same liberal principles throughout the decades, but Yang, too, has that feather in his cap.
Even now, Yang doesn’t hold back in addressing his Asian-ness. In December, the final Democratic debate of the year was hosted at my school, Loyola Marymount University. Aside from the big topics, namely the drama that ensued over Twitter about the labor disputes involving our Sodexo workers, the panel brought up the issue of the decreasing pool of presidential candidates of color.
SNL recreated the moment, with the debate facilitator quipping, “Just like The Bachelor, the further we go, the less diverse it gets.” Andrew Yang was quick to answer the question clearly directed at him, the lone candidate of color on the stage. He explained that the income gap between white and non-white families was the reason candidates of color like him were dropping like flies amidst the Democratic National Convention’s quotas for fundraising.
“Fewer than 5% of Americans donate to political campaigns. You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income.” Yang said. “I guarantee if we have a Freedom Dividend of a thousand dollars every month, I would not be the only candidate of color on his state tonight.”
It also prompted the question, to me personally, of how this conversation plays out amongst college students like myself—a known demographic for people interested in political activism and advocacy. The “broke college student” narrative may not be true for more privileged folk, but when we consider these wealth disparities in households, we may find another symptom of the lack of donations to candidates of color like Yang. I don’t have much disposable income. In fact, I find myself having to utilize things like our food pantry and emergency funds to pay for a meal, and I know I’m not alone in that.
I want to give money to every candidate I support. But ultimately, I don’t have the means to. Every cent I earn goes toward sustaining myself health-wise and paying for my education. Sure, the candidates know that, passionately advocating for things like cheaper or free college in our interest. They’d have more support and more money behind them if we’d already achieved those things as a nation. But we haven’t.
It seems like a hopeless situation, but cynicism is disempowering. Yang has made it through the end-of-year deadline of December 2019, having raised over $6 million in the last months of the year. He’s still in the race, but I can’t help but look at his campaign like it has an expiration date. America may not be ready for its first Asian president, but if there’s anything we know about politics today, it’s that the unexpected can happen no matter what the numbers say. Placing our faith in what we expect, think, or hope will happen doesn’t always pan out. The pessimistic attitude people have for the probability of electing someone like Yang can be flipped on its head.
In this case, being wrong could work out in our favor.