POLITICS

Really? Congressman Peter King Uses Anti-Asian Slur On TV

King used a derogatory term for Japanese-Americans on "Morning Joe" and refused to apologize.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), appearing on live television Friday, dredged up a racial slur from the annals of wartime history.

In an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," King used the term "Japs" in a criticism of likely Republican nominee Donald Trump's approach to national security. King compared the candidate to a hypothetical trigger-happy "guy at the end of the bar" who is oblivious to the consequences of actions like dropping a nuclear bomb. 

"There's real issues with him, real problems with his views," King said of Trump. "I don't know if he's thought them through, or if it's just like the guy at the end of the bar that says, 'Oh screw them, bomb them, kill them, pull out, bring them home. You know, why pay for the Japs, why pay for the Koreans?'"

The derogatory term was used for Japanese people and Japanese-Americans during and after World War II, particularly after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

Speaking with The Hill on Friday, King refused to apologize.

"I stand by the merits of what I said. I was quoting the guy at the end of the bar who needlessly offends, who makes snaps decisions and doesn't care, who suddenly says, 'The hell with them, the Japs and Koreans,'" King told the outlet.

He went on, "If someone wants to say, 'The mick at the end of the bar,’ I wouldn't be offended by it," citing an antiquated slur against Irish people. (King's paternal grandparents immigrated from Ireland.) King's office could not be reached for further comment. 

In case it's not clear why this slur is so offensive to Asian-Americans, let's break it down:

Words Matter

King was quoting a fictitious person when he used the slur. But even if his "guy at the end of the bar" were real, he could have made his point without needlessly repeating a slur.

"As an elected official, he has a responsibility not to repeat such divisive, offensive terms," Christopher Kang, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, told The Huffington Post. "He can still stand by the merits of his statement without needlessly offending others." 

King also claimed that it's "absolute intellectual dishonesty to characterize my comment as anti-Japanese or anti-Asian when I am satirizing and criticizing bias and ignorance" in a statement to NBC News.

But offensive terms are not crucial to satire. And certainly not from the mouth of someone who, as a white man, enjoys structural privilege. Sorry, but a history of oppression doesn't disappear just because you want to make a point.

This isn't about "PC culture"

It's increasingly common to write off a marginalized group's valid concerns as too much political correctness. To this end, King claims that his antiquated ethnic slur should be acceptable, since he wouldn't be offended if someone used one against him. 

But just because he wouldn't be offended doesn't mean he has license to foist the slur on another community. (It also doesn't mean he speaks for all Irish-Americans.) Besides, the negative connotation of this particular term is hardly overblown in the context of... 

The reality of Japanese internment

The "J-word" is inextricably linked to the traumatic period of Japanese internment during and after World War II, in which over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were basically imprisoned. The ease with which King deployed the slur makes it obvious that the anti-Asian sentiment of that time is hardly a relic. 

As far back as 1957, the Japanese American Citizens League launched an education campaign to retire the word. The Japanese civil rights activist Shosuke Sasaki made the point, decades ago, that "not even a moron would persist in calling a person by any name which that person considered offensive." That means King doesn't get to decide whether or not the slur is acceptable.

King's use of the slur is not just antiquated, it's regressive. Merriam-Webster dictionary officially classified the term "jap" as derogatory in 1975. And just last week, Congress approved a bill to remove the word "oriental" from federal law.

Xenophobia is cumulative

It hardly bears repeating that this is one of the most xenophobic times in recent history. Much attention has been paid to Trump's Islamophobia and anti-Latino rabble-rousing, but none of these sentiments exists in a vacuum. In fact, it was the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group that has been the target of King's ire, that initially called out his slur.

"It is unconscionable for a national elected official to use such a derogatory term to describe the Japanese people, or by extension, Japanese Americans," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad in a press release.

King has previously accused American Muslim communities and mosques of fostering extremism, with little evidence. Insulting Asian-Americans, stigmatizing Muslims and proposing to build walls are all part of the same spectrum of fear. It is offensive -- and not very American.

CORRECTION: This article initially referred to internment of Japanese-Americans after World War II; internment took place both during and after the war.

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