On Thursday, while businessman Andrew Yang spoke about health care during the Democratic presidential debate, he made a brief joke about his Asian heritage (emphasis added):
We know we’re on the same team. We all have a better vision for health care than our current president, and I believe we’re talking about this the wrong way. As someone who has run a business, I know that our current health care system makes it harder to hire people, makes it harder to give them benefits and treat them as full-time employees – you instead pretend they’re contractors. It’s harder to change jobs; it’s certainly harder to start a business. The pitch we have to make [to] the American people is, we will get the health care weight off of your backs and then unleash the hopes and dreams of the American people.
I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors, and they tell me that they spend a lot of time on paperwork, avoiding being sued, and navigating the insurance bureaucracy. We have to change the incentives, so instead of revenue and activity, people are focused on our health in the health care system, and the Cleveland Clinic, where they’re paid not based upon how many procedures they prescribe, shocker, they prescribe fewer procedures and patient health stays the same or improves. That is the pitch to the American people.
The crowd cheered and applauded Yang’s pitch, but some on social media expressed frustration over the candidate’s joke:
Uhm, could we please stop reinforcing the model minority myth on a national debate stage? Not only does it flatten away the diversity of AsAm experiences into a joke, but it is also rooted in anti-blackness … Yang literally said that he knows doctors because he’s Asian. This totally unsophisticated and stereotypical statement ignores the fact that many Asians are not ethnically or economically privileged enough to “know a lot of doctors.”
I am an Asian American, I don’t know more doctors than anyone else. I am really sick of Andrew Yang and how he continuously hurts the AAPI community by using stereotypes that have harmed our community for centuries. It’s not cute. It’s not okay. #DemDebates
Andrew Yang making a joke buying into the stereotype on Asians being doctors is a good [segue] into talking about 1) the dangers of perpetuating the model minority myth and 2) talking about the racial disparities in medical school admissions. Just saying.
Andrew Yang is a disgrace. Biden, Buttigieg & Klobuchar ganged up on Julian Castro with all the Caucasian energy they could muster and this man steps in to say he knows a lot of doctors coz he’s Asian. Pathetic. You hate to see it.
Other users found the joke funny, including Melissa Chen, the managing director of Ideas Beyond Borders, who wrote:
“I am Asian and I know a lot of doctors” says @AndrewYang. Lousy Asian! You’re supposed to BE the doctor. Not know them. #DemDebate
The Asian-as-doctor stereotype is fairly pervasive in American culture. Jokes regarding Asian heritage and high achievement have made their way into TV shows and movies, including shows as popular and widely-known as “Family Guy.”
There is a grain of truth embedded within the joke.
According to DataUSA, which gathered information from the United States Census Bureau and the American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (ACS-PUMS), although Asians constituted only 6% of the general population in 2017, they represented 21.1% of physicians and surgeons in the United States.
On the other hand, while caucasians constituted approximately 73.6% of the general population, and African Americans 12%, they represented 69.8% and 5.82% of physicians and surgeons in the United States, respectively.
Inside Higher Ed backs up this information, noting that in 2016, 21.3% of medical school matriculants were Asian, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.