Yesterday, Andrew Yang published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for Asian Americans to respond to the rise of anti-Asian racist incidents by proving our “American-ness.” We are living in a time when the President explicitly weaponizes anti-Asian rhetoric, ICE quietly conducts mass deportations of Southeast Asians, and our sense of belonging in this country is so obviously fragile and conditional. Yang calling for Asian Americans to proudly “embrace and show our American-ness” is like telling a victim to go make amends with their perpetrator.
In his piece, Yang shares personal experiences and reports of rising anti-Asian hostility. He alludes to the impact these trends have on Asian American mental health. Meanwhile, he empathizes with the assailants of these hate incidents by reminding us that citizens are hurting emotionally and anxious about economics, and that the public is “wired” to attribute the coronavirus to race in these uncertain times. He concludes with a call to Asian Americans to respond with patriotism:
“We 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.
Demonstrate that we are part of the solution. We are not the virus, but we can be part of the cure.” (emphasis added)
Yang uses the large numbers of Japanese Americans volunteering for military duty during World War II as an example of Asian Americans doing their part for their country. This historical example is not an appropriate allegory for the current climate Asian Americans are facing. Japanese American soldiers sacrificing their lives to prove their patriotism did not help Japanese Americans secure their belonging. 120,000 Japanese Americans were still incarcerated from 1942-1946 for suspicion of “subversive activity” with Japan. Their participation in this country’s military industrial complex did not mitigate America’s violent surveillance, nor did it decrease the length, impact, or trauma of their incarceration. Japanese Americans were still denied the basic rights of U.S. citizens.
In the same way, wearing red, white, and blue and proving good citizenship right now won’t promise our safety or acceptance in this country. Yang’s call for patriotism relies on historical amnesia by erasing all the incidents throughout history when our citizenship has been given and then arbitrarily revoked. This assimilationist, state-worshipping ethos is an ineffective survival mechanism that costs us our histories, resistance, and solidarity movements. Under the guise of patriotism and loyalty, Yang indirectly calls us to be obedient to the state in a time when resistance is imperative.
With the rise of anti-Asian racism, this moment is an opportunity for Asian Americans to display disloyalty to the state and loyalty to anti-racist coalitions with other communities of color. Instead of demonstrating our “American-ness,” we should be demonstrating our disapproval of the U.S.’s legacy of racism, violence, and xenophobia. We must seize the moment to develop a broader, more critical Asian American consciousness that interrogates the power structures, historical violence, and contradictory operations of race and citizenship in this country.