Bigoted words from clients, politicians, and talk radio

Mar 06, 2008 Bigoted words from clients, politicians, and talk radio

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

In the past, sometimes I would lash out when hearing bigoted words. I learned that such an approach might satisfy me that I had expressed counter-speech, but that my lashed-out words may have barely been heard by the person speaking bigoted words. and those spectators looking as if they enjoy such words. Little by little, I tried avoiding lashing out in tone of voice, and instead responding in a calmer way that would chip away at (at the very least), reverse, and ultimately eliminate bigoted views.

I had a recent opportunity at this newer approach when I waited with a client for a court recess to end. Out of nowhere, my client motioned me over, leaned towards me as if about to tell a confidence, but instead said: "These are some pain in the ass n*****s," using a racial slur for African-Americans. I responded with an incredulous attitude: "You’re entitled to your opinions, but I’m entitled to mine, and they differ very much from what you just said." My client seemed to get the point, and the subject did not return between us.

A few years ago on his popular radio show, Rush Limbaugh said gook. When he seemed to indicate that someone on the radio studio staff looked to be in disagreement with using that word, Rush said it again.

Now moving to politicians, this week I learned that in early 2000 during his competition to win the Republican presidential nomination, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on February 18, 2000: "Arizona Sen. John McCain refused to apologize yesterday for his use of a racial slur to condemn the North Vietnamese prison guards who tortured and held him captive during the war. ‘I hate the gooks,’ McCain said yesterday in response to a question from reporters aboard his campaign bus. ‘I will hate them as long as I live.’"

McCain ultimately gave a partial apology not long after using the word gook earlier in the year. The February 24, 2000, edition of Asian Week explains:

"Less than 24 hours after stories ran about Sen. John McCain’s statement to reporters that he would continue to refer to his Vietnamese wartime captors as ‘gooks,’ his campaign announced Feb. 18 that he would no longer use that term. Three days later McCain issued an official apology.

"Several stories that ran last Friday quoted McCain as saying ‘I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live… I was referring to my prison guards and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend.’ But after APIs blasted his unabashed use of the highly derogatory term that has historically been used against Asians and Asian Americans, the campaign made an apology after announcing that McCain would no longer use the racial slur.

“’I will continue to condemn those who unfairly mistreated us,’ McCain said in a statement released Feb. 21. ‘But out of respect to a great number of people for whom I hold in very high regard, I will no longer use the term that has caused such discomfort… I apologize and renounce all language that is bigoted and offensive, which is contrary to all that I represent and believe.’”

The Nation wrote on December 15, 1999, that McCain’s use of the word "gook" dates back to his release as a prisoner of war:

"Perhaps the most striking example of the media’s unwillingness to challenge McCain’s air of moral authority is when he shocks listeners by casually calling the Vietnamese ‘gooks.’ The racist and disparaging term, popularized by GIs during the war, occurs repeatedly in a 1973 U.S. News & World Report account penned by McCain after his release from prison. ‘The "gooks" were bombarding us with antiwar quotes from people in high places back in Washington,’ he wrote, referring to the propaganda that his captors gave him. A quarter of a century later, while speaking with reporters aboard the Straight Talk Express in October, McCain was still calling Vietnamese ‘gooks’–and according to a reporter who was there, no one called him on it."

Although the source is Wikipedia, whose reliability always needs to be checked with care, this Wikipedia article makes a sensible suggestion that the racist word "gook" may have its origins "from the Korean í•êµ­ (Han-guk, “Korea”). May also be related to the term goo-goo, of Tagalog derivation, a derogatory slang for the local population which emerged during the Filipino-American War around 1900."

As to the possibility of the racist word "gook" having Korean origins, American soldiers during the Korean War would hear Korean people saying "Mi-guk" for "American". From my continuing learning of Korean, I know that in Korean, a person of a particular nationality can be referred to as *-guk, as in Mi-guk for American and Han-guk for Korean.Perhaps some of the American soldiers in Korea thought the Korean speakers of this phrase were saying "Me gook" as in "I am a gook," leading to the "gook" word finally being applied in a racist way to Asian people. However, for whatever it is worth, the "guk" sound in "Mi-guk" contains a short "u" sound, as in "book", whereas the pronunciation of the racist "gook" involves a long double-o sound, as in "spook".

In any event, it is unconvincing that McCain could have believed that his repeated use of the word "gook" would reasonably only apply to his Vietnamese captors, when I understand that this racist word was used repeatedly by countless American soldiers in Vietnam as a way to dehumanize all Vietnamese people. Dehumanizing people makes it easier for many to oppress and for soldiers and others in the violence business to kill them, which is one of the numerous reasons why I lean so strongly towards pacifism.

So as not to single out McCain as the only presidential candidate that is challenged on racial issues, this Asian Fortune article by Jenny Chen calls Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the spotlight. As Ms. Chen tells it: "But on February 23, reporters from Chinese-American news media such as the World Journal and the Sing Tao Daily were denied access to the fundraising luncheon that was held for Clinton, on grounds that the event was not open to ‘foreign press.’ Later, Howard Wolfson, spokesperson for the Hillary Clinton for President Exploratory Committee, apologized to the World Journal, saying that this was a ‘learning experience’ and that they would make sure to include the Chinese American press in the future. ‘Certainly you are not the foreign press,’ Wolfson told them, according to the World Journal." A similar version of this story ran in the March 16, 2007, Asian Week.

As to Barack Obama, Ms. Chen relates the Obama campaign’s Punjab-gate (at best), which the June 19, 2007, Washington Post discussed as follows: "Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) issued a round of apologies yesterday for a memo generated by his campaign staff that referred to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as a senator from the Indian region of Punjab and criticized her record on outsourcing. Pointing the finger at his campaign staff, Obama told the editorial board of the Des Moines Register that he ‘thought it was stupid and caustic.’ Obama said that the memo ‘not only didn’t reflect the complicated issue of outsourcing . . . it also didn’t reflect the fact that I have long-standing support and friendships within the Indian American community,’ according to a story on the paper’s Web site."

The foregoing stories show McCain using the racist word "gook" for decades, and Clinton’s and Obama’s campaign handlers respectively barring Asian-American journalists as coming from the "foreign press" and lampooning Hillary Clinton as being a senator from India’s Punjab region. McCain did not apologize until the heat was on him. Clinton’s and Obama’s campaign folks blundered with the foregoing "foreign press" and Punjab-gate scandals. One of these three will be taking over the White House. We do not need a president McCain who sincerely believes in the word "gook" but just does not say it. We do not need an Obama or Clinton White House where staffers are dehumanizing racial minorities (of course, one day white people may be a racial minority in the United States). The time for all three to show they and their staffs have permanently seen and arrived at the light on race relations is now, before any further primary or general presidential elections. 

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Jenny Chen for her Asian Fortune article on the foregoing race relations scenarios of the current presidential candidates.

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