Lost in the shitstorm over “shithole” was another equally damning example of President Donald Trump’s blatant racism and sexism. It was an outward display of a mindset that in many ways has paved the way for the government shutdown we’re facing now. Last week, NBC News reported that last fall, the president of the United States asked a career intelligence analyst “Where are you from?” She responded, “New York,” and that should have ended the conversation. It didn’t. He asked again, and she responded, “Manhattan. For those who have initiated a similar conversation, if you ask twice and you don’t get the answer you are fishing for ― just drop it. Take a hint. We don’t want to go there with you. Trump, clearly oblivious to this social cue, follows up and asks where “your people” are from.
Finally relenting, the analyst answered that her parents are Korean. At this point, Trump, through his ignorance, has robbed this woman of all the hard work, intellect and skill she has invested into her profession by placing some artificial value on her (and her family’s) ethnicity.Where she or her parents are from has zero bearing on her job or value. It’s one thing if someone volunteers information about their culture, background, family and upbringing. But until they do, it’s none of your business and should have no role in how you judge, evaluate and view them as professionals or human beings.
Taking it even further, Trump somehow manages to combine sexism with racism by asking why the “pretty Korean lady” wasn’t negotiating with North Korea. The insane thing about this statement is that I’m 100 percent certain that in Trump’s mind, he was paying her a compliment. What he did was demean and insult a woman who was simply trying to do her job.
Trump owes this “pretty Korean lady” an apology for his ignorant, racist and sexist comments. I don’t think Trump realizes or cares about the consequences that his tone, tenor and words have had in the lives of people who don’t look like him. Pretty much my entire life, I’ve been asked (primarily by white people) the question that I imagine every “Asian-looking” person cringes at inside: “Where are you from?”
In most cases, I’m certain that the person asking this is not consciously discriminatory, but rather is just completely ignorant of how annoying this question is to people who look like me. Like the career intelligence analyst attempted to do with Trump, I answered the question by saying “New York” or “California” ― where I had spent my childhood and formative years. Inevitably comes the dreaded follow-up: “No, I mean what is your background? Chinese or Japanese?” The puzzled looks I would receive when I responded: “German and Italian” were priceless but also revealing. I simply did not fit into their preordained stereotypical worldviews. My name is Kurt (German) Bardella (Italian), and I am adopted.
For most of you out there who ask this question of people who look or sound “different,” you’re probably just genuinely curious and mean no harm. You’re just trying to start conversation.
But the case of Trump and the career intelligence professional reveals something much more offensive. It was a glimpse into the racially charged worldview that Trump subscribes to, a worldview that has infected the Republican Party and now led us to a government shutdown.It’s the same worldview that led to his vulgarly demeaning the lives of would-be immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa. It’s the same worldview that has him obsessed with building a border wall to keep “bad hombres” out of the United States. And it’s the same worldview that drove him to end DACA. Trump and his Republican enablers are so fixated on enacting these outwardly racist policies that they are willing to preside over a government shutdown to get them.
The shutdown showdown unfolding right now is about much more than government funding. It is about two different portraits representing the American identity. The Trump-GOP viewpoint sees our country as one that is, first and foremost, Caucasian. The Democratic perspective sees a diverse nation of many cultures, backgrounds, languages and customs.
That’s what we are fighting about. It may be more politically expedient for Democrats to back down, but with our national identity hanging in the balance, this is the time to take a stand.
Kurt Bardella was born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted by two Americans from Rochester, New York, when he was three months old. He currently lives in Arlington, Virginia.
This piece is part of HuffPost’s brand-new Opinion section.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.