I’ve been thinking a lot about Andrew Yang's extremely problematic op-ed in Washington Post. On the subject of AA's facing intense racism during COVID-19, Yang encourages us to “show our American-ness in ways we never have before” by working & volunteering extra hard to be “part of the cure”. While he’s speaking specifically to AA’s, it’s quite clear what he’s implying for all minorities: that the American identity is CONDITIONAL: it must be earned, and can be taken away. I say minorities purposefully because Yang does not specify any generational privilege; 4th, 5th-gen AA’s subject to racism are given the same call to action because most fundamentally, he’s telling us that being American means being WHITE.
This toxic ideology that minorities in the U.S. must earn their place & aspire to whiteness is not new (I’ve discussed in a previous post how it’s played out in AA's via the Model Minority myth and anti-blackness). At its core, the American “dream” has always been about extracting worth from PoC, then turning around and oppressing them to keep white Americans in power. Our lands were taken forcefully from indigenous people, who now have some of the country's lowest employment rates. We became an economic powerhouse through cotton, built on the backs of slave labor; after slavery “ended” we use mass incarceration for the same purpose. The Chinese built our railroads, and were subsequently banned to lower competition for white workers. Undocumented, primarily Central American workers prop up our agricultural industry, and despite being declared “essential” they are not even included in the stimulus package.
“Contributions to society” may give minorities access to America, but it has never given us claim to being American. Capitalism obscures the fact that that assimilation is not about productivity by enmeshing wealth with privilege, when it has always been about race. Let’s stop buying into the idea that our current systems wants equality for everyone, because it has ever only considered one demographic. If we want to change how minorities are treated in America, we have to fundamentally change what we believe it means to be American.