Although these days, Former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is predominantly seen stumping with husband Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell, Chao has built an impressive history as a public servant in her own right, breaking through a number of barriers to Asian Americans in Washington.
Her career in politics began in the Reagan Administration when Chao, a Republican, worked as Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration of the US Department of Transportation. She went on to serve as Deputy Secretary of Transportation and later as Director of the Peace Corps under President George H.W. Bush. Eventually, she was appointed as the 24th Labor Secretary under the junior Bush, and became the only Cabinet member of George W. Bush’s administration to serve out his full two terms. Chao is the first Asian American woman to be appointed to any of these positions, including as a Cabinet Secretary — the nation’s highest appointed office.
A staunch conservative, Chao has politics that are very nearly the polar opposite to my own. There’s very little I agree with when it comes to Chao’s philosophy (less that I agree with when it comes to her husband Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), but no one can or should deny Chao’s accomplishments as a forthright and powerful Asian American woman in politics.
That’s why, in my mind, there is absolutely no justification for the racist, anti-Asian tirade of Kathy Groob, a Kentucky-based Democrat and founder of the Elect Women PAC, earlier this week.
Last week, McConnell was campaigning in Kentucky (at a thing called Fancy Farm, which sounds like where they grow all the chickens that become the ground up bits of meat and gravy I feed my cat) when he praised his wife, saying “and the biggest asset I have by far is the only Kentucky woman who served in a president’s cabinet, my wife, Elaine Chao.”
It didn’t take long for Groob — founder of a PAC whose stated mission is to “help other women learn about politics and to encourage them to become involved and to provide the tools for women to run for office” — to tear down one of the most prominent and pioneering Asian American women in politics. Groob took to Twitter to send a series of tweets, each hammering home the same point: “Elaine Chao is not from Kentucky, [and] she is Asian.”
Here are screen captures courtesy of local news channel WFPL:
In two other tweets, Groob referred to Chao as McConnell’s “Chinese wife” and accused McConnell of being “wedded to free trade in China” (a reference to this wildly racist article), because we all know that marrying a non-White woman is really marrying the entire political leadership of a foreign government (which would probably make night-time activities really awkward).
Dude, this shit is so racist and sexist I don’t even know where to begin.
First of all, it goes without saying that Elaine Chao — born in Taipei, Taiwan — is 100% American: she and her family immigrated and naturalized as American citizens when Chao was 8. Yet, Groob was apparently thrown by Chao’s Asian American identity into making the totally asinine conclusion that there is something not quite American enough about the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since the 1940’s.
Groob’s comments are based upon the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype of Asian Americans, which asserts that by virtue of our race alone, Asian Americans are innately disloyal and un-American. This kind of presumed foreigness is what motivated a lot of the historic racism that Asian Americans have endured. It was the justification used for the exclusion of Chinese Americans in 1882, and other Asian ethnicities in subsequent decades; the forcible imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II; the killing of Vincent Chin in 1982; and, the rising number of anti-Sikh, anti-Muslim and anti-South Asian hate crimes since 9/11 including last week’s brutal hit-and-run of Sandeep Singh. The article that Groob references — the one that argues misogynistically and racistly that McConnell’s spousal choice calls into question his own loyalty to America — suggests that Chao (a Chinese American) is covertly an operative for China’s business interests in the U.S. while making other false comparisons between Chao and events in China:
Eight days after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where China’s communist regime crushed a nascent democracy movement, McConnell collected his first $8,000 from the Taiwanese-born Chao, then just a friend, and her family.
If you can follow this logic, you’re a better person than I.
This excerpt highlights the second problematic aspect of Groob’s racist tirade against Chao: the failure to distinguish between China and Taiwan. It’s true that Chao’s family business involves US-Pacific trade, and Chao herself has developed business contacts throughout the region. But, Chao is Chinese American by race, not by nationality; to attempt to conflate Chao with the actions of the Communist Party of China is not only inaccurate, it is wholly offensive. Chao’s family, like many Chinese and Chinese American families, escaped violence and possible death at the hands of Communist Party members during the Cultural Revolution when they fled to Taiwan. To suggest that Chao is secretly working for the same government that persecuted her family a generation ago betrays a complete ignorance of the politics of the region, or of Asian American identity politics in general.
Finally, this fiasco grates because it reminds me how in much of America, interracial relationships are still stigmatized and viewed with suspicion. Kathy Groob is only the latest political operative to attempt to make hay out of Chao’s race and her marriage; last year, another Democratic PAC suggested that McConnell’s marriage to a Chinese American woman may be why jobs were being outsourced to China. This incident makes painfully clear that some people still subscribe to the racist and misogynist notion that a White man should consider his non-White wife to be a personal character flaw. It’s subconsciously misogylinist, because it reinforces the notion that men should be defined to some significant extent by the sexuality and identity of the women they partner with. And again, we see efforts to shame Asian American women — and their spouses — for exercising their innate reproductive rights to free spousal choice. As an Asian American woman in an interracial partnership, I can’t help but find this deeply personal.
In the end, the really damning aspect of Groob’s commentary is her presumption that “Asian” and “Kentucky” are mutually exclusive descriptors. Groob — a self-described feminist — assumes that the true Kentucky woman is neither Asian in general, nor Chinese American specifically. Groob forgets that 1.3%, or over 50,000 Kentuckians are Asian American, half of them true Asian American Kentucky women. Clearly, Groob’s idea of a feminist doesn’t include women like myself.
On her website, Kathy Groob describes herself as a “advocate for women in politics”. Yet, it’s clear that the kind of women Kathy Groob advocates for in politics don’t look like me. Kathy Groob may be trying to help women break their way through Washington’s glass ceiling, but she only appears to be interested as long as those women don’t look like Elaine Chao. And we wonder why women of colour have lashed out against traditionally White feminist spaces as damningly exclusive to the intersection of race and gender; this is the kind of mindset symptomatic of those classically all-White “feminist” spaces that has no room for a feminist like me.
Kathy Groob may be a feminist and a Democrat, but she’s no feminist or liberal whom I want as an ally.It is not Kathy Groob’s leftist politics that make her racist; it is Kathy Groob’s obvious anti-Asian racism that makes her racist.
I may be a Far Left progressive, but incidents like these serve as a painful reminder that neither Left nor Right really gets it right when it comes to racial politics. Although I typically find the Left to be on the whole less motivated by xenophobia and abject intolerance, neither Democrats nor Republicans — nor feminists — are immune to this kind of sheer, mind-numbing racism and misogyny. It is our responsibility as Democrats — and specifically Democrats of colour — to not tolerate this kind of hatespeech among our ranks.
Within hours of posting her tweets, Kathy Groob deleted the tweets and deactivated her Twitter account. The National and Kentucky Democrats were quick to distance themselves from Groob. As of today, both her personal website (KathyGroob.com) and her PAC’s website (ElectWomen.com) are no longer active. But, Kathy Groob’s book “Pink Politics” is still available on Amazon, where it still enjoys generally positive reviews despite being penned by an obvious bigot
Meanwhile, Kathy Groob has offered only this as a completely unacceptable non-apology:
That definitely ain’t gonna cut it, folks. This just ain’t enough.