West Virginians thankfully rejected Don Blankenship's racist remarks

West Virginians thankfully rejected Don Blankenship's racist remarks
© Getty

Last week, people rejected an outright appeal to racism and bigotry. In this environment, that felt good.

West Virginians thankfully rejected Don Blankenship’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate. In the last days before the primary in West Virginia, Blankenship released a campaign ad attacking Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ky.) and his wife Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoMcConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters Protesters confront McConnell leaving Kentucky restaurant The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Wild night of primaries reshapes 2018 midterms MORE, saying that McConnell has a “China family” and that he created jobs for “China people.” Now I’m not a fan of McConnell or Chao’s policies or politics, but such blatant racist attacks cannot be tolerated.

Blankenship’s attacks — which took place right at the beginning of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month — are part of a larger problem of how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are viewed and treated in this country: as people who are foreign, “other” and, ultimately, un-American, no matter how long the AAPI person may have lived here. Indeed, Chao herself was born in Taiwan but immigrated to the United States when she was 8-years-old.


This racism towards AAPIs rears its head in different ways. Sometimes, it is in explicit attacks, like Blankenship’s ad. In fact, many of us AAPIs have had such explicit racist statements thrown at us. One survey of girls ages 14 to 18 by the National Women’s Law Center last year found that 46 percent of AAPI girls had been called a racial slur — more than any other group of girls.

And my own experience is no different. Even though I was born and raised in San Francisco, a city with a large population of AAPIs, I have been called racial slurs and have been told to “go back home.”

At other times, the racism comes up implicitly in the form of seemingly innocuous questions: Where are you from?” “California.” “No really, where are you from?” Or in the case of President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE’s questioning of a Korean American intelligence analyst, where are “your people” from?

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeSanders tests his brand in Florida Overnight Energy: Court orders EPA to enforce chemical safety rule | Dem says Zinke would 'sell' his grandkids for the oil industry | EPA reportedly poised to unveil climate rule replacement Washington governor says Zinke would 'sell his grandchildren for the oil industry' MORE even started to answer a question from Congresswoman Colleen HanabusaColleen Wakako HanabusaThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts Case makes political comeback by winning Hawaii House primary Hawaii’s governor makes improbable comeback MORE (D-Hawaii) with “konnichiwa.” I myself have gotten these questions throughout my life. To this day, on at least a monthly basis, I am interrogated about where I’m from. To be clear, these are questions whose premise is anything but harmless. These are questions that suggest that, no matter what, I will never be accepted as American and will always be viewed as foreign by some people.

While the rejection of blatant anti-AAPI bias is a relief, especially during APA Heritage Month, we can’t let down our guard. I confess that, in normal times, I like to spend heritage month differently.

This is the time I want to spend celebrating our communities’ heroes, like Patsy Mink who was one of the principal authors of Title IX, the law that prohibited sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funds.

This is the time that I want to highlight the needs of our community, such as the need for disaggregated data so that marginalized groups within the larger AAPI community can be properly counted and receive appropriate resources. But these are not normal times.

These are times when our president has prioritized building a wall to keep out what he considers illegal immigrants and sees a moral equivalence between neo-Nazi white supremacy groups and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va.

These are times when the president is ratcheting up his rhetoric about a trade war with China. These are times when people are trying to justify the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. These are times when the very safety and security of our immigrant sisters and brothers are on the line.

So while I am heartened by the rejection of overt racism this week, I will spend this APA Heritage Month standing in unity with my larger community of black, brown and yellow sisters and brothers to denounce racism and bigotry wherever we see it. As these attacks continue to show, they are truly coming for all of us.

Anna Chu is vice president for strategy and policy at the National Women’s Law Center and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.