Sery Kim is a Lesson for Those Who Think Pandering to Whiteness Will Save Them from Anti-Asian Hate

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the authors.

During a Republican forum last Wednesday, Texas congressional candidate and former Trump official Sery Kim made racist remarks about Chinese immigrants. “I don’t want them here at all,” she said. “They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don’t hold themselves accountable.”

These comments are straight out of Trump’s playbook. They’re false, xenophobic, and used for cheap political points. They’re also grotesquely irresponsible at a time when targeted violence against the Asian American community is at a terrifying high, in large part due to rhetoric like this.

Kim justified that rhetoric by adding, “Quite frankly, I can say that because I’m Korean.”

That last part. As a Korean American and lifelong Texan, hearing Kim justify her absurd statements with her Koreanness filled me with rage. When it comes to anti-Asian racism, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Korean or Chinese. To our attackers, we all have the same foreign faces. How could she say something so thoughtless and dangerous, so divisive? But Kim appeared to be laboring under the delusion that pandering to conservative voters would give her power that her white GOP counterparts enjoy.

It gives me no joy to say that she was proved wrong in the most vitriolic way. Her speech went viral, and she has since been met with violent, racist messages online. Nobody deserves to be subjected to such treatment, but I cannot say that I’m surprised. Throwing her fellow Asian Americans under the bus did not save her from racism or endear her to white America. In addition to becoming the target of hateful trolls, Kim has been thoroughly criticized by the Korean American community and lost the endorsement of two Republican congresswomen of Korean descent.

Kim has since responded to the backlash, "I am shocked that in an effort to counter Asian-American hate the liberal media is targeting me, an Asian and an immigrant, in an effort to paint me as anti-Asian and anti-immigrant just for speaking against the oppressive Chinese Communist Party."

This is rich. We know the difference between critiques of the Chinese government and racist comments about Chinese people, and Kim’s comments at the forum were explicitly about Chinese immigrants. She denigrated Chinese people who come to live here. Her original comments had nothing to do with the CCP, as she now claims. But even if they did, it’s worth examining why she is so fixated on China when our own government failed to adequately address the pandemic, leading to 555,000 preventable deaths, and utterly abandoned us during winter storm Uri, the fallout from which many Texans are still suffering.

Kim is not alone in her fear mongering about China. It is pervasive in this country and inseparable from the violence Asian people are experiencing. It is also not new - Asian immigrants have long been used as scapegoats for America’s problems, and our dehumanization has been leveraged to manufacture consent for imperialist and racist wars fought in our countries of origin. What Kim seems to miss is that hatred toward one group of Asians results in persecution toward us all. During World War II, Chinese and Korean Americans mistaken for Japanese Americans were assaulted, despite wearing buttons that read “I am Chinese” and “Korean American.” I was reminded of this last year when I saw online advertisements for shirts that read “I’m [insert ethnicity here], not Chinese,” as reports of anti-Asian attacks rose sharply at the beginning of the pandemic. Such misguided efforts at self-protection are reflected in Kim’s indignation at being called Chinese by racist trolls in the wake of her Wednesday comments.

Kim’s remarks will have virtually no impact on the CCP or on U.S.-China relations, but they will definitely add fuel to a fire that does real harm to Asians living in America. This rhetoric incites violence. This is not a hypothetical - we have a year’s worth of tragic evidence demonstrating how such comments from public officials embolden people to attack us. Kim misses the point of what it means to be Asian American, even as she wields that term in her statements. We are an extremely diverse group, as Asian people in this country are divided by nationality, generation, class, and immigration status. But our fates are tied together by the fact that here, we are racialized in the same way. We are treated as perpetual foreigners, and whatever acceptance we gain from our white neighbors is conditional and can be revoked at the drop of a hat. Proximity to whiteness will not save us. The only thing that will save us is our solidarity with one another.

About the Author: Jeana Nam is a Korean American graduate student and reproductive justice advocate in Houston, Texas.

Feature Image via Sery Kim

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