Condemnation of racial slurs is colored by political correctness, opportunity.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: It’s commendable for Japanese American veteran Congressman from California Mike Honda to condemn Fox News host of ‘The Five’, Bob Beckel, over using the racially offensive term ‘Chinaman’ in a rant against online hacking by people from China.
But did Honda – who represents the only Asian American majority congressional seat in the US, in the San Jose area – show any respect for his fellow Democrat and competitor in the November polls, Ro Khanna, when a campaign associated with him sent out mailers recently with blown out photos of the brown-skinned Khanna with the loaded messages ‘Don’t let Ro Khanna outsource our jobs,’ and ‘Sending jobs overseas.’ The answer: No.
Honda has for long positioned himself as a champion of the bullied, but this latest condemnation of a racial slur – which has also come from several other powerful Democrats, including California Congresswoman Judy Chu and Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, who will be vying for a congressional seat himself in November – smacks of just being politically correct, trying to get some mileage with his constituents in a race against Honda which has started to create some flutters in his camp, and no more. If Honda indeed cares so much about Asian-origin people in the US, then he should have at least expressed regret on the mailers that were sent out against Khanna by a PAC associated with him, which also painted an incorrect image of Khanna and of India and the Indian American community.
Khanna’s campaign had condemned the mailers as stereotyping and termed the Working for Us PAC – which started the campaign on behalf of Honda – of making “racially coded attacks” against him. Honda didn’t express any regret for the ads, which even distorted Khanna’s viewpoint on the issue.
Beckel, himself a veteran campaigner of the Democrat party, on his show last Thursday exploded discussing increasing threat to US security from hackers: “The Chinese are the single biggest threat to the national security of the U.S. They have been, they will be and they can wait, they’re very patient. Do you know what we just did? As usual, we bring them over here and we teach a bunch of Chinamen — er, Chinese people — how to do computers and then they go back to China and hack into us.”
The matter wouldn’t have raised such a hue and cry except for the fact that Beckel has been accused of being racially insensitive in his comments against Asian-origin people earlier too. Last year, he said that after he went swimming, his “eyes blew up, and it made me look Oriental.”
Honda’s office released the following statement by Honda on Beckel’s outburst to The American Bazaar: “I am outraged and disgusted by Fox News commentator Bob Beckel’s use of the word “Chinamen” and his other racist and xenophobic comments. I agree with State Senator Ted Lieu, Campbell CA Councilmember Evan Low, and everyone else who has called on Fox News to fire Beckel. The ignorance and hatred in his comments are repugnant. The fact that he has yet to apologize for these comments is inexcusable. As the founder of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, I know that words hurt, and slurs are used to intimidate. Fox News needs to do the right thing and fire Bob Beckel.”
The Indian American community have been long standing targets of racial slurs in the US: with people from the north east of India commonly called as ‘chinkies’ even by their own countrymen – equating them with people of other Asian countries. Sikhs have been murdered for the way they look; Muslims equated with evil. If looks of hatred at the Indian community could only translate to words in thin air, most of it would translate to: ‘You Stink.’
Over the last few years, some of the infamous racial slurs against the Indian American community have mostly come from politicians, from both Democrats and Republicans. Though nobody has ever resigned for making derogatory remarks against the community, at least in one instance it proved to be the downfall of one of the biggest names in the GOP.
Republican George Allen, who was considered a shoo-in for the Senate seat from Virginia in 2006, against his Democratic opponent Jim Webb, saw his political career decimated after he called an Indian American worker of Webb’s campaign ‘macaca’, a racially charged word for a genus of monkeys.
But that has not stopped others from heaping some perceived fun, ridicule and racial abuse at the community, regardless of their target’s position in society. South Carolina State Senator John ‘Jake’ Knotts is a prime example, having termed the then state Representative Nikki Haley, who was a candidate in the gubernatorial race, as a ‘raghead’.
In 2006, Vice President Joe Biden, in a jocular mood in his home state of Delaware, made a comment to a supporter that he later apologized for, but left a pock mark on the community’s image: “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking,” said Biden.
The African American community has undeniably been at the receiving end of the most racially abuse slurs in the history of the country, and not even President Barack Obama has been spared. There have been apologies galore over centuries, but is there an end in sight?
In 2011, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said to the consternation of parties across the board that being associated with Obama was similar to touching a “tar baby”.
“Even if some people say, well the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that, they will hold the President responsible,” said Lamborn, speaking on a Denver radio station. “Now I don’t want to even have to be associated with him. It’s like touching a tar baby and you get, you get it, you know… you are stuck and you are part of the problem now and you can’t get away.”
The last part of that statement is particularly significant in a growing debate over racial slurs and abuse in the US: “…you are stuck and you are part of the problem now and you can’t get away”.
Beckel is part of the problem for sure, speaking the way he did on national television. But politicians like Honda should remember that they too are a part of the problem when they discriminate, albeit with political correctness, against certain communities, and show sympathy to others (read the Chinese community who comprise a large number of voters in his constituency, and with growing animosity between China and Japan, could become an important factor in the November polls).
And Mr. Honda “you can’t get away” from that, sir.
(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)