Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is being accused of racism for the way he congratulated one of President Joe Biden's judicial nominees.
The Honorable Lucy H. Koh is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and a nominee to be a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Koh is the first U.S. district court judge of Korean descent and the first female Korean American federal judge in the United States.
A hearing to assess Koh's nomination was held on October 6, and the praise Grassley offered Koh has raised eyebrows.
"Judge, welcome. What you said about your Korean background reminds me a lot about what my daughter-in-law of 45 years has said: That if I've learned anything from Korean people, it's a hard work ethic and how you can make a lot out of nothing."
"So I congratulate you and your people."
Koh thanked Grassley, but the exchange became the subject of significant criticism.
In response to that, Taylor Foy, a spokesperson for Grassley, said the Senator's comments were intended to be "complimentary, not to insult anyone."
However, some believe Grassley's remarks are indicative of long-held racist beliefs about Asians being the "model minority" in the United States in comparison to Blacks and Hispanics.
Adam Ruins Everything explored the myth of the Model Minority.
That myth has been the subject of much scholarly debate over the years, particularly about how Asians are perceived as having overcome racial barriers by being "smart" and "working harder" than Blacks and Hispanics, who have often been cast as "lazy."
In 2017, to recall one well-documented case, NPR's Kat Chow called out New York Magazine's Andrew Sullivan after he suggested Asian-Americans, with their "solid two-parent family structures," provide a clear blueprint for how to overcome racial discrimination.
At the time, Chow wrote:
"Since the end of World War II, many white people have used Asian-Americans and their perceived collective success as a racial wedge."
"The effect? Minimizing the role racism plays in the persistent struggles of other racial/ethnic minority groups — especially black Americans."
For many critics, including members of the Asian-American community, Grassley's remarks echoed these same sentiments, and he was harshly criticized.
Koh was born in Washington, DC.
She is the daughter of a North Korean refugee and a South Korean who fought in the Korean War against Communist forces.
Democrats have praised Koh and her nomination, saying it represents President Joe Biden's administration's commitment to ensuring there are diverse voices within the nation's many judicial branches.
Testifying on Wednesday, Koh said diversity serves to "enhance confidence in the justice system" as well as to "reaffirm the American dream" for people around the world as well as her own community.