Ann Coulter may be the Cornell alum of whom my school is most embarrassed.
The Far Right commentator deploys few facts to defend any mainstream conservative viewpoints, preferring instead to go full-tilt racist and intolerant. She routinely is found stoking the fires of Islamophobia, calling for a return to literacy tests at the ballot box, lamenting women’s suffrage, and using all manner of slurs.
And yet, Coulter routinely remains — despite her bigoted and inane commentary — a fixture of mainstream media’s political talk shows.
Last night, Coulter appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews in a segment with the host and fellow guest Joy Reid (video after the jump). In discussing protests at Trump rallies, Coulter veered once more into the bizarre and racist when she first referred to Asian Americans as “Mandarins”, and then she insisted for the next minute and a half that this is the most correct term for our community.
“Mandarins” is an archaic term used by the West to refer to the public officials of China’s imperial government. China has not operated under an emperor’s rule since 1912.
It’s doubtful Coulter knew of the word’s history: it’s hard to imagine that Coulter really believes that Trump protesters will usher in a rebirth of the Qing dynasty.
Instead, Coulter’s use of terminology is clearly a racially-charged reference to her xenophobic and nativist fears of America’s increasing cultural and linguistic diversity. “The signs are in Mandarin, ” she outrageously declares as rationale for her use of the word. Never mind, of course, that not all Asian Americans speak Mandarin, or that not all Asian Americans are even Chinese. Coulter isn’t exactly a culturally competent racist. Here, she expresses nothing but contempt for these non-English demonstrators, and to express that hatred, she searches on live TV for a dehumanizing word to use against them; And so, she arrives at “Mandarins”.
In this context, we must be clear: Coulter is using “Mandarins” as a slur. A ridiculous slur, perhaps, but an anti-Asian slur nonetheless.
The racial overtones of Coulter’s use of “Mandarins” are crystallized as she continues to pontificate upon the group she is targeting. In naming Asian Americans “Mandarins”, Coulter also declares us broadly un-American, and warns of an “invasion”. Though Coulter’s use of “Mandarins” as a slur is apparently invented, the stereotypes she invokes are not: in less than a minute, Coulter characterizes the Asian American community with the brush of Yellow Peril and Perpetual Foreigner stereotypes. When challenged by Joy Reid, Coulter invokes her privilege: she declares, “you can’t police my language!” — the classic defense of bigots who don’t want to be called out on their act of bigotry.
Coulter’s throwback racism to an archaic term can’t help but remind of recently passed legislation authored by Congresswoman Grace Meng to eliminate archaic racial terms from federal law. In a bill signed into law this week by President Obama, words like “Negro” and “Oriental” were removed from existing legal language, perhaps leaving Coulter grasping for other anachronistic slurs to use in service of her own racism.
This entire episode leaves me pondering: why does Ann Coulter keep getting invited back to talk about things like “demographic shifts”, the ostensible subject of the segment? Ann Coulter is a frenzied racist, who has never offered anything meaningful to political discourse. She may sell a headline or two, but she lowers the level of debate as she does it.
We live in an era where people of colour remain grossly underrepresented on political talk shows, and where Asian Americans in particular constitute less than 1% of guests on Sunday morning talk shows. I’m honestly not sure what is more offensive: that Ann Coulter called all Asian Americans “Mandarins” on primetime TV last night, or that MSNBC chose to invite this inflammatory racist (rather than any one of several Asian American or Latino commentators) on-air to talk about the Asian American and Latino communities in the first place.
Do better, MSNBC. Do better.
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Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!