Conservative Tree House expressed shock and outrage today from a video published to the internet of an (East Asian or East Asian American) woman who appears to take a surreptitious cellphone picture of Rex Tillerson’s notes during a break from his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. The story was then soon picked up by the Gateway Pundit.
The two Far Right blogs that frequently serve as alternative sources for conservative news cited “Twitter folks” to identify the woman in the video as Doris Truong, former president of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and a current editor at the Washington Post. Indeed, spurred on by these headlines, Twitter’s Trump Trolls were quick to launch a torrent of hate Doris Truong’s way, tagging her with hundreds of tweets calling her “sneaky“, a “paid Clinton idiot“, a “bitch“, a “whore” and a “spy”. The racist and sexist hate has also called for Truong to be arrested and charged with espionage.
There’s a couple of problems with this. The first, of course, is that that woman is not Doris Truong.
Not all Asian women look alike. Let me say it one more time for the cheap seats: Not all Asian women look alike.
If anything, this story reveals the extent of the Far Right’s internalized racism against Asian Americans. First of all, they earnestly do not seem to be able to recognize that the woman in the video isn’t Truong, but also looks nothing like her. Nor does this woman look anything like Inside Climate News’ Lisa Song, another Asian American reporter named by Conservative Tree House as a possible “suspect”. The only thing Truong and Song have in common with this unidentified woman is that all appear to be East Asian or East Asian American women. Yeah, that’s it.
How few Asian or Asian American people must you interact with for you to actually think that either Doris Truong or Lisa Song bears any physical resemblance to the woman pictured in the video? Oh wait, that’s not poor ability to recognize faces talking; that’s racism.
Second, it’s disconcerting how quickly this story rushed to label Truong a “spy” and an “infiltrator.” Since we first stepped foot in America, Asian Americans have endured the stereotype of the Perpetual Foreigner, which would cast us as foreign, sneaky, disloyal and unpatriotic. No matter how many generations back we can trace our American heritage, Asian Americans are viewed with suspicion and distrust as potential actors of a foreign power.
This Perpetual Foreigner stereotype is not merely the stuff of internet discussion; it has throughout Asian American history manifested in seriously mistreatment and oppression of Asian American people. In the 19th century, a number of Asian American groups were banned from entry into America by virtue of our race and the expectation that we were too alien to be welcome. During World War II, Japanese Americans were incarcerated in American concentration camps (Note: JACL’s Power of Words) based on the unfounded presumption that even second- or third-generation Japanese Americans were more loyal to the Japanese emperor than the country of their birth.
In 1999, a Taiwanese American nuclear scientist by the name of Wen Ho Lee was arrested and charged with being a spy for the Chinese government — even though Lee identifies as Taiwanese and not Chinese. After spending months in solitary confinement, Lee was released after the federal government dropped all charges citing lack of evidence. Wen Ho Lee’s case is not even unusual: since the 1990’s, the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype has been used as unspoken justification for the harassment and arrest of scores of Asian American scientists, and the blacklisting of Asian American State Department workers.
When Twitter’s Trump supporters thinks all Asian American women look the same, and then hurl phrases like “sneaky”, “scheming”, “whore” and “spy” at someone who is essentially an innocent bystander, that is the Trump Nation exercising their collusion in racist and sexist bullying against Asian American women and anyone else deemed by this horde of hatemongers to be ‘too different’ to be American.
Is this the America that we can look forward to for the next four years?
(Oh, and by the way, tell me again that not all Trump supporters are racist. #NotAllTrumpers, maybe. But if a Trump supporter silently tolerates this kind of racism and sexism in their midst, are they not guilty of condoning the hate?)
Doris Truong is reportedly preparing a written response to this fiasco.
Update: The real Truong published this column with the Washington Post discussing the disturbing and misguided witch-hunt against her. In it, she writes:
I’m perplexed and, honestly, shocked by how quickly the narrative went from someone trying to identify a woman in a video to another person attaching a name to hordes seizing upon that information as the truth.
The woman at the hearing wasn’t me. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know who she is. What we have in common is that we’re both women, and we’re both Asian. However, that should not be enough grounds for people to jump to dangerous conclusions.