Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) condemned racist coronavirus descriptors during a CNN interview on Thursday, as well as the words of fellow lawmaker Chip Roy (R-Texas), who began ranting about the Chinese Communist Party during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that same day.
“I just ask my Republican colleagues to please stop using ethnic identifiers in describing the coronavirus,” said Lieu, who was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. with his family at the age of three. “I am not a virus.”
During the hearing — meant to focus on anti-Asian racism and the fatal shooting of eight people, six of them Asian women, outside Atlanta this week — Roy suddenly began pontificating about the dangers of stifling free speech. He discussed the Chinese Communist Party, referencing “Chi-Coms” and “bad guys,” and appeared to glorify lynching, arguing that there was an “old saying” in his state about finding “all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.”
Roy refused to walk back his comments after they went viral, even after internet sleuths determined that his so-called “old saying” appears to be a lyric from a 2003 song by country singer Toby Keith.
“I served on active duty in the United States military to defend the right of anyone to say stupid, racist stuff, including Representative Chip Roy,” Lieu told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “He glorified lynching at this hearing. Lynching has had a profound effect on African Americans and Asian Americans.”
Lieu pointed to the 1871 Chinese massacre, a mass lynching in which a mob entered Los Angeles’ Chinatown and killed at least 17 immigrants in cold blood.
“I call on Chip Roy to apologize,” Lieu said. “He shouldn’t have been glorifying lynching at this hearing, and he’s confusing the fears of a foreign government with what this hearing is about, which is attacks on Americans who happen to be of Asian descent. It’s that inability to separate the two that caused the Japanese American internment in World War II, and it’s causing hate crimes against Asian Americans right now.”
Lieu reiterated these remarks to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Thursday. The U.S. has a “long history of discrimination against Asian Americans,” he noted, citing not only the incarceration of Japanese Americans, but also the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers for 61 years, and the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death by two men in the Detroit auto industry who blamed him for the success of Japanese automobiles, despite the fact that Chin was Chinese American.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest impetus for discrimination, Lieu said.
“Please stop using racist terms like ‘Kung Flu,’ ‘Wuhan virus’ or other ethnic identifiers,” Lieu urged, repeating the terms that former President Donald Trump repeatedly used during his last year in office. “I am not a virus, and when you say things like that, it hurts the Asian American community.”