The New York Daily News is in hot water from readers as well as across the internet for a political cartoon it ran depicting New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang that included centuries of harmful racist stereotypes.
Kimmy Yam of NBC News reported that “the illustration, which was first shared on social media by its artist, Bill Bramhall, was slammed for emulating old racist caricatures of Asian Americans as having small, slanted eyes and buck teeth and for playing into the perpetual foreigner stereotype.”
— Bill Bramhall (@BillBramhall) May 24, 2021
“The cartoon showed Yang with small, slanted eyes running out of the Times Square subway station near a shopkeeper exclaiming, ‘The tourists are back!’” Yam added. “It was in part a reference to Yang’s recent interview with comedian and television star Ziwe Fumudoh, in which he said his favorite subway stop was Times Square, an area notoriously avoided by native New Yorkers.”
After the controversy erupted, the Daily News went back and altered the cartoon, increasing the size of Yang’s eyes for print. The paper’s editorial page editor Josh Greenman also insisted the depiction was “not a racial stereotype or racist caricature.”
“Andrew 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,” Greenman said in a statement. “Bill Bramhall’s cartoon is a comment on that, period, end of story.”
Still, for many offended by the cartoon, Greenman’s cop-out apology was another example of too little, too late — especially considering the racist way Chinese Americans continue to be otherized and dehumanized throughout many parts of Western culture even today.
In an interview with Yam, Naomi Tacuyan Underwood, executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association, said she believed it’s entirely possible for comedians, comic illustrators and all other individuals to make political statements about Yang without relying on centuries-old racist tropes.
“Pay attention to your audience. This is part of a long, centuries’ worth use of political cartoons to otherize a population,” Underwood said. “Whether or not the intent was that, the impact was felt by a segment of your audience and a growing part of an American community.”
Underwood also told Yam that “exaggerated, mangled depictions of Asian Americans were used to fuel arguments for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. A character, drawn with a long Manchu-style braid, slanted eyes and buck teeth, was often referred to as ‘John Chinaman’ and weaponized to depict the ‘threat’ of Chinese labor. The exclusion act would subsequently put a 10-year moratorium on all Chinese labor immigration.”
Van Tran, a sociology professor at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, told Yam and NBC that these types of harmful stereotypes have roots in a long history of anti-Asian racism.
“The more generous interpretation would be that Bramhall took artistic liberty in the portrayal of Yang during a moment of heightened anti-Asian sentiment, which shows a lack of judgment and consideration for the Asian community,” Tran said. “The less generous interpretation would be that Bramhall falls back to these racial stereotypes because racist jokes against Asians were deemed to be acceptable.”
Yang himself, a former candidate for President in the 2020 election and now a leading candidate for New York City mayor, responded to the cartoon on social media saying, “every time you say that I’m not a real New Yorker, you’re telling another Asian American that they don’t belong. I will be the first to tell you that I’m open to different opinions and will always welcome conversations on policy. And I am a proud son of immigrants. But to paint me in the media as a perpetual foreigner to this city is wrong and subtly approves racism at a time when people are being beaten on the street on the basis of who they are.”
“Whether you were born here, just arrived here from another country or are fresh out of college ready to follow your dreams — I will say clearly that all New Yorkers belong,” Yang said. “Our city is stronger when we are united in humanity and fellowship, and not divided by false narratives of who belongs and who doesn’t.”
My thoughts on the racist cartoon of me published by the Daily News. pic.twitter.com/Z9F9O2bNXP
— Andrew Yang🧢⬆️🇺🇸 (@AndrewYang) May 25, 2021