Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 26 May 2021


Andrew Yang says a cartoon about him is a ‘racialized caricature.’ The N.Y. Daily News is defending it.

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New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event in New York on Monday. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
May 27, 2021 at 2:19 a.m. GMT+8

The New York Daily News has defended an editorial cartoon mocking Andrew Yang that the New York mayoral candidate’s camp decried as racist.

The political art, by staff cartoonist Bill Bramhall, depicts Yang emerging from the Times Square subway station as a vendor hawking New York City tchotchkes says, “The tourists are back!” The cartoon came after his Sunday interview with Showtime talk-show host Ziwe Fumudoh, in which he said that his favorite New York subway stop was Times Square — a prototypical tourist area that Yang noted was “my stop.”

When Bramhall posted the cartoon to social media Monday, it caricatured Yang as having no visible eyes, summoning a long history of racist imagery created to demean Asians and Asian Americans. After the caricature came under fire, Bramhall “altered the drawing out of sensitivity” by adding eyes to the two horizontal lines, said the Daily News in a statement, noting that the altered version appeared in its print edition Tuesday.

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In response to the cartoon, Yang issued a statement that said in part: “I’ve seen images like this before — in history books from the turn of the century and World War II. Images of Asians having beady, slanted eyes and buck teeth have been a part of the American consciousness for a long time. It’s grounded in a history of casting immigrants and children of immigrants as perpetual foreigners or even subhuman.”

He called the cartoon a “racialized caricature” and said it depicted him as a “perpetual foreigner.” Yang has lived in New York for decades.

Evelyn Yang, the candidate’s wife, tweeted her condemnation of publishing “this racist disfiguration of Andrew Yang as a tourist, in NYC where I was born, where Andrew has lived for 25 years, where 16 percent of us are Asian and anti-Asian hate is up 900 percent.”

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She was writing in response to a tweet by the AAPI Victory Alliance that called the cartoon “disgusting and wrong,” noting that “every single day Asian Americans have to fight the notion that we are foreigners.”

Bramhall did not respond to a Washington Post request for comment. Josh Greenman, the editorial page editor of the Daily News, referred The Post to his Tuesday statement, in which he said: “Yang is a leading contender to be mayor of New York City, and as commentators, his opponents and The News editorial board have pointed out, he’s recently revealed there are major gaps in his knowledge of New York City politics and policy. Nor has he ever voted in a mayoral election. Bill Bramhall’s cartoon is a comment on that, period, end of story.”

Greenman added that Bramhall’s cartoon is “not a racial stereotype or racist caricature” and that altering the eyes did not change “the concept of the cartoon, which he and we stand by.”

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Early Sunday, the Daily News editorial board published an editorial — headlined, “Yanging our chain: Andrew Yang doesn’t know enough to lead New York City” — that said the candidate “may be a quick study, but all the cramming he’s done since jumping into the mayor’s race can’t make up for years of inattention to New York politics and policies.”

Maya Wiley, one of Yang’s opponents in the mayoral election, defended him against the cartoon, saying on Twitter that he “should not have to endure this.”

Yang and his wife held a news conference Tuesday outside a Queens subway station where a man of Asian descent had been pushed onto the tracks. While denouncing the cartoon, the candidate said: “Hate is tearing our city apart, and we need it to stop.” Yang’s team did not reply to a Post request for comment.

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Evelyn Yang also tweeted out side-by-side illustrations comparing Bramhall’s cartoon to a racist trope of Asian caricature as shown in Gene Luen Yang’s 2006 graphic novel “American Born Chinese,” a National Book Award finalist. She captioned the tweet: “Which one is from 2021.”

The Bay Area graphic novelist, a past MacArthur Fellow, replied to her tweet by showing other historical examples of such racist imagery.

“The implication of foreignness was the most offensive aspect of the [Bramhall] cartoon,” Gene Luen Yang told The Post on Wednesday. “With my replies, I wanted to show that it’s a trope that’s cropped up again and again in American comics.”

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“Ideas have a history to them, right?” Yang continued. “When we use them in our art, we should try our best to be aware of that history.”

Yet Matt Wuerker, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for Politico, sees Bramhall’s work as being fair play within the scope of a visual satirist.

“The current spasm of anti-Asian violence is heinous, and those hate crimes stem from a horrible and long legacy of anti-Asian racism in America,” Wuerker told The Post. “That said, I just don’t think you can connect the Bramhall cartoon to any of that: It’s a political cartoon lampooning Yang, I think fairly, for his small and silly misstep in trying to navigate the politics of one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.”

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As for the caricature, he said: “I think any cartoonist worth their salt is right to be sensitive to the long history of racist ethnic caricature in American political cartoons, but we’ve generally left that behind us.”

Wuerker noted that New York City is a place for “sharp elbows and a tough sense of humor,” and that if Yang were to become mayor, he should expect lampoons.

“I think political cartoons, at their best, come loaded with acid commentary and biting caricatures,” he added. “I look forward to the day when we as a culture have evolved to the point where politicians of all backgrounds can be satirically caricatured to the extreme and people will just see it as what it is — a cartoon.”

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