I think politicians should be required to take racial sensitivity classes before they start campaigning. Seriously. Not to protect the minorities they will otherwise inevitably offend — you can't get a racist cat to change its stripes, and while 'Macaca-gate' was pretty insulting, people of colour are more offended by the racist legislation than the racist language. No, politicians and related professionals should undergo racial sensitivity training because they seem to be too stupid along with their racism.
A bare month after Macaca-gate, former Minnesota Representative Mike Osskopp, now acting as director of Representative John Kline's campaign in Minnesota was caught on camera yelling a racial slur to passing cars. As cars drove by, Osskopp shreiked to the drivers that they were driving “Jap” cars. (Click on this link to view the video, courtesy of Inside Minnesota Politics.)
Idiot. There's a camera on you. The idiocy of racism is only compounded by the idiocy of racism with a camera on you.
“Jap” is a racial slur that was frequently used during WWII to villainize Japanese troops (although it originated earlier than that, pretty much as soon as the Japanese landed in America). Not only was it used as a slur by troops fighting Japanese soldiers, but was used at home during the oppression and internment of Japanese American citizens and even against non-Japanese Asian Americans by those who couldn't tell the difference.
“Jap” was later used by the killers of Vincent Chin, uttered moments before Chin was fatally beaten by Ron Ebens and Michael Nitz in 1982. Incidentally, this hate crime was fueled by the same anti-Japanese sentiment that resulted from foreign vs. domestic automabile manufacturers feuding that seems to have triggered the Osskopp Incident earlier this week. Also, Ebens and Nitz did not spend a single day in jail for their killing of Chin.
Non-Asians still defend the usage of this racial slur, particularly in the automobile industry where there is still heavy competition between foreign and domestic car companies and fans of certain car manufactures have canonized the use of “Jap” to refer to foreign-made vehicles. Perhaps this was what Osskop was referring to — but that doesn't negate the slur's historical usage. Before there were cars, in fact, there were racist White Americans uttering the word “Jap” as rationalization to disenfranchise, dehumanize, maim, and murder Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans who, at the time, were, because of their status as “Japs” afforded no legal rights of their own. “Jap” is a reminder of our community's historical treatment as animals (and indeed, the treatment was extended to all Asian Americans regardless of our ethnicity) and should not be tolerated in today's society.
Osskop released a statement of apology yesterday, trying to pass the blame by claiming ignorance:
“I apologize if my words offended any Americans of Japanese descent, including my sister-in-law,” Osskopp said. “I allowed my emotions to get the better of me and used a phrase commonly used in my youth, but which is now inappropriate and offensive.”
Note the typical desperate response by a member of the mainstream when accused of racism. Osskopp first denies that the words themselves were racist, instead apologizing for the offense rather than the trigger. Secondly, Osskopp uses the “I didn't know it was racist defense” coupled with the “don't blame me, blame my parents defense”, describes how he is now a better person for having been educated in how not to be racist (or at least how not to be racist in front of a camera), and we even learn the interesting yet completely irrelevant factoid that Osskopp has a Japanese American sister-in-law, which must acquit him of any racial wrongdoing, right? I mean, after all, he's got Asian in his family; he's got to be worldly!
Thankfully, Kline has publicly condemned Osskopp's remarks, but I'm betting that's nothing more than lip service. After all, we're talking about the same region that sparked statewide backlash against Hmong immigrants a year ago when Chai Vang was convicted for the shooting deaths of six White (and probably inebriated) hunters after a language problem and inter-cultural tension escalated into a violent confrontation.
Ultimately, Osskopp will get away with a proverbial slap-on-the-wrist and no one will remember this incident in a month (if they know about it now). It certainly is unlikely to hurt Kline's campaign, and it's hard to imagine the largely monochromatic population of Minnesota being up in arms to defend the Asian American community from rampant racial slurs in the same vein as “macaca”.
It only goes to show you how desperately we need to become involved in politics. In roughly a month, two racial slurs directed against our community have come to light, and yet we have very little recourse with which to make a lasting political consequence.
This kind of behaviour from our nation's politicians will only continue so long as we continue to do nothing to stop it.
Cross-Posted: APA for Progress