Many were shocked to learn Sen. Patty Kuderer’s remark in a committee, as seen in a TVW in a Jan. 17 video when she used the phrase “like a Chinese fire drill,” and was met with laughter from her audience. One would expect Sen. Kuderer to simply apologize to the Chinese American community and move on, and even use some unconscious bias and sensitivity training afterward.
Responding to our joint complaint by Washington Asians For Equality and the American Coalition for Equality, Sen. Kuderer refused to apologize to the community and insisted on letting her MLK Day committee narrative stand as her statement on the incident. “I actually want to apologize for an insensitive remark I made in committee last week… (a colleague) had graciously and humbly pointed out to me, and it was quite a teachable moment… we are never too old to learn something new. I will certainly endeavor to be more mindful. In all the confusion that was happening on Friday — calling of witnesses — it was an attempt to be lighthearted, but sometimes we don’t say things the way we really intend them to be.”
Unfortunately, Sen. Kuderer misunderstood something more profound: It is the insulted who may decide what is a joke in the context of problematic language. While her response may not be the most flagrant means of patronizing language among “progressive” white politicians, she should be aware of her place in defining the meaning of racially-charged language. What stands is that those words offended and insulted Chinese Americans, and even a recognition of this damage, is a cut above her superficial “apology.” Perhaps more profound steps to engage in discussion and assist a historically oppressed demographic could be more fitting of her role as Senator.