‘You and your people’: Iowa senator’s ‘compliment’ towards Korean American judge ignites stereotype debate

Lucy Koh gets a "compliment" from Senator

A Korean American judge received a microaggressive remark during her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

The remark: Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), 88, lauded judicial nominee Lucy Koh’s tenacity in the hearing but closed off his comments with what many are pointing out as stereotypical and outdated, according to the Washington Post.

  • “What you said about your Korean background reminded me a lot of what my daughter-in-law of 45 years has said: ‘If I’ve learned anything from Korean people, it’s a hard work ethic. And how you can make a lot out of nothing,’” he said. “So I congratulate you and your people.”
  • Koh thanked the senator afterward.
  • She was nominated by President Biden to be a part of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Should she be confirmed, Koh would be the first Korean American woman to serve on a federal appeals court, Reuters reported. 

The response: Many have flooded to Twitter to post their issue with the remark, and Asian American leaders and political reporters have spoken out against it, claiming it has stereotypical connotations that uphold the “Model Minority” myth.

  • Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who is also the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), explained that even if Grassley had good intentions, it came from a place of prejudice.
  • “Even if you think you’re being complimentary, assigning any character trait to an entire community is the definition of prejudice,” she said. “Treating all members of a group as the same invites mistreatment when one person can be held accountable for the actions of someone else. It may not be the same incitement to violence seen in other slurs, but it is harmful nonetheless.”
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice President and Executive Director John C. Yang also released a statement that said, “While we understand the intent of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s comment, stereotypes — even seemingly benign ones — ultimately harm and create divisions within communities. Hard work is a shared ethic among many Americans from different cultures and races, not only Korean Americans.”
  • Grassley’s spokesperson, Taylor Foy, later issued a statement saying, his “intent was to be complimentary, not to insult anyone. Chairman [Richard J.] Durbin invited Judge Koh to share the inspiring story of her family’s immigration to the United States. Sen. Grassley shared that he has similarly been inspired by the immigration story of his daughter-in-law, who is also Korean American.”
  • Twitter users have sparked the hashtag, #ConfirmKoh, in support of the judge’s nomination. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) gave a lengthy endorsement of Koh’s character and listed out why she would be a great benefit to the court.

Featured Image via Forbes Breaking News (left), Reuters (right)

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