WASHINGTON — Last week, Rep. Peter King appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and used the racial slur “Japs” when discussing Donald Trump’s approach to national security.
“National defense and homeland security are issues that mean the most to me and there’s real issues with him, real problems with his views,” King said of Trump on May 13. “I don’t know if he’s thought them through, or if it’s 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?'”
Many Asian American Pacific Islander leaders and organizations have responded to King’s remark. “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.”
Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), urged King to “refrain from further use of derogatory language targeting any national, ethnic or minority group.”
When asked later about using the term, King refused to apologize and said that people are too “politically correct.”
Priscilla Ouchida, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said King was missing the point: “These types of words translate into hate speech. Hate speech is different than ‘political correctness.’ ‘Jap’ is hate speech. ‘Jap’ is a repugnant reminder of anti-Asian racism and of episodes that represent America at its worst.
“We as Americans should aspire to the ideals of a democratic nation, and those who choose to revert to usage of ‘Jap’ must understand the burden of that word.”
In 1957, JACL launched a campaign to eliminate the use of “Jap” as a reference to persons of Japanese ancestry. A massive public education drive was carried out to make others aware of the racist roots of the term and to condemn its use.
Ouchida wrote in The Huffington Post, “Irony of ironies, I was attending an All Camps Consortium Conference when I got word of King’s statement. Participants represented organizations from all ten concentration camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. The work of the conference was to make sure that the injustices perpetrated primarily on the Japanese population — 62 percent of whom were American citizens — are not inflicted on another group of people.
“On the very day we met, the headlines were again filled with the word ‘Jap.’ Hate speech from 75 years ago … For those at the conference, the word drained the blood from our faces and brought back the nightmare of numbers instead of names, of horse stalls and desolate prisons, and of a destruction of property, assets, community, heritage, culture and language. Even if King had apologized, he could not erase the impact of his racism. But he did not apologize.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement to NBC News, “Mr. King knows his words have an impact. Using the J-word is disgusting and harkens back to a shameful time in our history when violence, xenophobia, and the internment of Japanese Americans were everyday phenomena. These words are not only offensive, but they also isolate and divide us as a nation. Mr. King should leave this racist terms back in the last century and apologize to the Japanese American community for his comments.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told NBC News, “Rep. King became yet another voice adding to the hateful rhetoric used to describe Japanese Americans and other minorities. In the past few months, we have seen major national leaders propose banning Muslims, building walls, and even invoking the Japanese American internment, one of our nation’s most shameful actions, as a reason to keep families fleeing war from seeking refuge in the United States. These statements betray the values our nation was built on.”
In a statement to NBC News, King responded, “The remark is entirely in the context of saying why I am not campaigning for Trump, defending the continued presence of American troops in Japan and Korea, and criticizing the candidate who, like the ‘guy at the end of the bar,’ is unthinking and mindlessly anti-Japanese. It is absolute intellectual dishonesty to characterize my comment as anti-Japanese or anti-Asian when I am satirizing and criticizing bias and ignorance.”