A career intelligence analyst who is an expert in hostage policy stood before President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last fall to brief him on the impending release of a family long held in Pakistan under uncertain circumstances.
It was her first time meeting the president, and when she was done briefing, he had a question for her.
”Where are you from?” the president asked, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.
New York, she replied.
Trump was unsatisfied and asked again, the officials said. Referring to the president’s hometown, she offered that she, too, was from Manhattan. But that’s not what the president was after.
He wanted to know where “your people” are from, according to the officials, who spoke off the record due to the nature of the internal discussions.
After the analyst revealed that her parents are Korean, Trump turned to an adviser in the room and seemed to suggest her ethnicity should determine her career path, asking why the “pretty Korean lady” isn’t negotiating with North Korea on his administration’s behalf, the officials said.
The above anecdote is from a White House intelligence briefing. It’s but one brick in a growing wall representing the abject, virulent racism of Donald Trump. If it was just one instance it could be forgiven as merely tasteless speech and/or poor judgment. Unfortunately for America, the President has a more than 40-year history of such racism and racial insensitivity.
Zack Beauchamp has some very cogent observations about this particular display of racism and offensiveness:
1. Being interrogated about your background is a kind of ordinary racism that Asian Americans often have to face. One’s boss interrupting a really important work event to do it is, as the Washington Post’s Brian Fung tweeted, “every Asian-American’s worst employment nightmare.”
2. Think carefully about what the president is saying here. By asking her “where are you from” and not accepting New York as an answer, he’s implying that children of Asian immigrants can never truly be “from” America. This isn’t just simple bigotry; it feels like a rejection of the classic American “melting pot” ideal altogether.
3. Trump was so distracted by the question of his briefer’s ethnic background that he interrupted a briefing on hostages held by a terrorist group in Pakistan to interrogate her about it. This suggests he wasn’t really paying attention to what she was saying — that racism literally distracted him from doing his job.
4. Trump’s racism seems to make him a truly terrible manager. There’s no reason that being of Korean descent means an intelligence expert on hostage situations should be reassigned to North Korea, let alone put in charge of nuclear negotiations.
5. Let’s not sleep on the sexism of calling her a “pretty Korean lady,” reducing a professional woman to her physical appearance.
6. The intelligence community lags behind the rest of the government on racial diversity and gender equity. It is 10 percentage points whiter than the US government average, per a 2016 survey, and about 5 percentage points more male. This woman probably had to overcome a lot to get to where she ended up, and this is where she landed.
It’s not a stretch to believe that Donald Trump behaved towards this intelligence analyst in a manner which would see a mid-level or senior manager at a company handed their walking papers and being escorted from the building. Yet our new normal has become so distorted that this egregious example of workplace racism and disrespect is just another day in Donald Trump’s White House.
Just when we begin thinking it couldn’t possibly get any worse, damned if it doesn’t get worse.
We’ve become so inured to the level of offensiveness emanating from this President that a single episode of gross disrespect and racial insensitivity barely moves the needle. We should be better than this, but the constant drumbeat of objectionable behavior and offensive speech has blunted our collective capacity for outrage. hat’s the true tragedy in this sorry saga.
If Donald Trump can’t reign in the constant parade of racism and general offensiveness (and there’s no reason to believe he’s going to change after more than four decades), he needs to go.
Nice work, America.