The Chinese social-media platform WeChat, once a hub for anti-affirmative-action organizers, is now reverberating with blue-hat emojis and cries for universal basic income. The flip can largely be linked to excitement surrounding one particular presidential candidate: Andrew Yang, the 45-year-old entrepreneur and political newbie who is also among the most successful Asian Americans to ever run for president. With the high level of support that Yang is getting from Asian voters, he has quieted the vocal conservative Asian American contingent that had been pulling the community to the right.
Yang has drawn this backing even as he openly supports affirmative action. “He seems to have been able to temper the most virulent opponents of affirmative action in spaces like WeChat,” Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, told me. “I think it is harder for opponents of affirmative action to gain traction when a prominent figure like Yang has taken a strong stance in favor of affirmative action and for other kinds of egalitarian policies.”
Zhao and his allies—many of them fellow well-educated, foreign-born Chinese Americans—believe that affirmative action harms Asian applicants by disproportionately benefiting black and Latino students. Though these conservatives are in the minority—polling consistently shows that most Asian Americans support race-based admissions and Democrats more broadly—they dominated the conversation, staging dramatic protests and flooding WeChat with anti-affirmative-action commentary. The result was one of the most vigorous grassroots movements to come out of the Asian American community in recent memory.