WASHINGTON – The Japanese American Citizens League issued the following statement on Aug. 17 about incidents involving two Democratic state representatives in Michigan, an African American and an Asian American, who were running for the same State Senate seat.
Yesterday it was reported that outside of Detroit polling precincts State Rep. Bettie Cook Scott referred to her opponent State Rep. Stephanie Chang as a “ching-chong” and told one of Rep. Chang’s immigrant volunteers that they “did not belong here.”
While Rep. Scott was quick to issue an apology, the JACL recognizes that the language she used is meant to demean Asians and Asian Americans on the basis of their race and further fuels anti-immigrant sentiments. We are saddened that in 2018, even as Asian American candidates make strides towards increased representation in state legislatures, their campaigns are being tainted by the cultural ignorance of others, in this case by another candidate.
To tell immigrants that they do not belong in America is a dangerous attitude that has fueled many of the hateful anti-immigrant policies of this country’s past and present; the Japanese American community knows all too well where such hateful rhetoric can lead. We believe all immigrants and all people have a rightful place in America, and condemn any attempts to see immigrants, especially those of Asian descent, as perpetually foreign.
JACL recognizes the challenges all women of color, including Rep. Scott, face as they fight for representation in any political sphere. We hope that all women of color have the opportunity to run for political offices judged solely on the merits of their campaign, and are never disparaged for their race.
JACL Detroit Chapter President Toshiki Masaki states, “I hope our community can use this as an opportunity to continue building bridges from the Asian American community outward, and that Rep. Scott will join us in this effort. JACL Detroit has a long legacy of seeking to foster better cross-cultural understanding throughout our city’s sometimes strained racial relations.”
We welcome an open discussion with Rep. Scott on how we might combat racism in our community. We expect that our own Asian American community must address the racist attitudes we sometimes perpetuate through anti-blackness or even with other Asian American communities. In these times where xenophobia, ignorance, and racism seek to divide all groups, we hope for and work towards active community healing.
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Scott, Chang and four other Democrats ran in the Aug. 7 Senate District 1 primary, which Chang won with nearly 50 percent of the vote.
Scott made disparaging remarks about immigrants despite the fact that Chang was born in Detroit. Chang’s husband, Sean Gray, who is African American, told The Metro Times that he personally heard some of Scott’s remarks and “asked her not to speak about my wife in that manner.”
Gray quoted Scott as saying that “these immigrants from China are coming over and taking our community from us” and that it disgusted her “seeing black people holding signs for these Asians and not supporting their own people.”
“In these times of rampant xenophobia, racism and intolerance, it is extremely disappointing to hear of an elected official speak to voters in this way,” said Aamina Ahmed, executive director of APIAVote-Michigan. “We all need to work together to combat prejudice, bias and systems of discrimination, not fall prey to them. We cannot let stereotyping and stigmatization become normalized by ignoring it.
“It is exceedingly upsetting to learn that the comments were made by a woman of color. We can build inclusive and cohesive communities that recognize diversity of all forms as a strength vs. a weakness and hope that Rep. Scott apologizes and joins us in this work.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon and more than a dozen community organizations called on Scott to apologize.
“If an individual doesn’t share our fundamental values of tolerance, decency, and respect, they should find another party,” Dillon said.
“Those are not the kinds of comments that should be made, nor are they the kind of comments I would normally make,” Scott said in a statement issued through her lawyer Bill Noakes. “I humbly apologize to Rep. Chang and to her husband, Mr. Gray, and to the broader Asian American community.
“We live in a time of increasing divisiveness,” she said. “As a state representative, I should never do anything to contribute to an atmosphere of divisiveness and for that, I am terribly sorry. I look forward to meeting with Rep. Chang to express my apologies directly to her as soon as she’s able to meet with me.”
Chang, who said she planned to meet with Scott, commented, “It’s not about me. It really is about the comments that she made to Asian Americans and the community more broadly.”