Republican Rep. Tom McClintock really wants people to think that structural racism doesn't exist.
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock (CA) suggested structural racism did not exist during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Thursday, claiming that successful Asian Americans were proof the issue was made up.
"What should make us all proud as Americans is that Asian Americans have the highest median income of any ethnic group in America, including white Americans," he said during the hearing, which was convened to discuss rising violence and racism against the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
"If America were such a hate-filled, discriminatory, racist society filled with animus against Asian Americans," he continued, "how do you explain the remarkable success of Asian Americans in our country?"
He added, "Their success should bring us all together as Americans to celebrate the opportunities that our country offers to all who seek the blessings of liberty."
The claim that all Asian Americans are successful feeds into the dangerous "model minority" myth, which promotes harmful stereotypes and pits AAPI communities against other races.
As Dr. Jennifer Ho, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, explained in an interview in 2020, the "model minority" myth is not just untrue but hugely detrimental to the AAPI community.
"Asian Americans are not succeeding because there is something inherent to us or our culture," she said. "It's not true that Asian-Americans are this undisputed success story. When you start to drill down into Asian ethnic groups and you look at the rates of Southeast Asian communities, like specifically Hmong, and Laotian, and Burmese, they have among the lowest graduation rates from high school, among the lowest socioeconomic status, among the lowest college attendance."
She added, "What the model minority myth [did in the past] ... was praise Japanese Americans in the 1960s and say, 'Look at these good, hardworking, quiet, passive people who come to the United States and they don't cause any trouble.' The subtext of that was, 'Unlike the way that Black Americans are currently causing trouble for the United States.'"
Moreover, the idea that all Asian Americans are success stories is patently untrue. A National Community Reinvestment Coalition racial wealth report from May 2020 found, "Despite Asian Americans having the highest household median income, most Asian Americans have a higher rate of poverty than White Americans, with Hmong having a poverty rate twice that of White Americans."
A March report from the National Women's Law Center also found that Asian American and Pacific Islander women as a collective group are still only paid 85 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
During Thursday's hearing, McClintock also claimed Americans should seek unity instead of confronting racism together, saying, "It deeply saddens me that instead of uniting as Americans, this hearing seeks to divide us as Americans."
"Any racist sentiments, speech, or act needs to be vigorously condemned. But to attack our society as systemically racist, a society that's produced the most freest, most prosperous, and most harmonious multiracial society in human history, well, that's an insult, and it's flat out wrong," McClintock said.
In addition to the country's ugly history of slavery and violent backlash to Black Americans in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which led to decades of built-in racism in housing policy, criminal justice, and more — issues that persist to this day — the United States has also enacted laws over the years that specifically discriminated against other groups.
That includes Asian Americans, who were subjected to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that barred Chinese immigrants from the United States to the 1942 internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the Chinese Massacre of 1817, during which 10% of Los Angeles' Chinese population was wiped out; 17 were slaughtered during that massacre, in the largest mass lynching in U.S. history.
The purpose of Thursday's hearing was to discuss and address threats and racist attacks on the AAPI community, which have seen an alarming uptick since the start of the pandemic.
In the first two months this year alone, 503 anti-Asian hate incidents occurred, according to a March report from Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of groups advocating for the AAPI community. Since last March, there have been a total of at least 3,795 anti-Asian hate incidents.
Those attacks and threats have been directly fueled by disparaging and racist rhetoric pushed by GOP officials and lawmakers, including Donald Trump, a previous Stop AAPI Hate report showed.
McClintock wasn't the only Republican lawmaker who made questionable comments during Thursday's hearing.
At one point, Rep. Chip Roy (TX) tried to defend the use of anti-Asian and other racist rhetoric, claiming he was concerned that cracking down on their usage would infringe on Americans' free speech rights.
"My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society — free speech — and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys," he said, before shifting gears and blaming the Chinese Communist Party for the COVID-19 crisis.
Roy's comments prompted backlash from other lawmakers.
Rep. Grace Meng's (D-NY) voice broke with emotion as she responded to the Texas congressman, saying, "Your president, and your party, and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want. But you don't have to do it by putting a bullseye on the back of Asian-Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids."
"This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community, and to find solutions and we will not let you take our voice away from us," she added.
California Rep. Ted Lieu (D) tweeted at Roy later, "Unlike you, I served on active duty in the US military. I'm aware of who the bad guys are. But today's hearing is about anti-Asian violence in the US. Americans who happen to be of Asian descent are being targeted."
The hearing comes in the wake of several deadly shootings in the Atlanta-area on Tuesday, in which a 21-year-old white man opened fire at three spas, killing eight people, including six Asian women.
Authorities claimed that the suspect had insisted his alleged crimes were not racially motivated. However, a witness from one of the spas told a local Korean outlet that the man had allegedly said he was going to "kill all Asians," though law enforcement officials have not yet confirmed that detail.
"This must stop. Our communities should not be afraid to go to work, to take a walk around our neighborhoods or to be in public spaces," said Phi Nguyen, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Atlanta.
"We need Congress, the White House, and government agencies at every level to take meaningful actions to address the systemic racism and misogyny that's literally killing our families, our neighbors, and our community members."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.