Last week, it was an honor to represent Greenwich and Stamford as I led the state House of Representatives in the Pledge of Allegiance, standing with Speaker Matt Ritter and Attorney General William Tong as fellow Americans who have a passion for Connecticut.
It was no coincidence that this invitation was extended to me as an Asian-American now serving in House, when people in Connecticut are hurt and repulsed by the now widely seen remarks, even on CNN, of state Rep. Mike Winkler that “Asians and other minorities have never been discriminated against.”
This statement is obviously exasperating, in that to many people it sounds like Asian lives and livelihoods are immaterial. What about the killings of eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta, on-going brutal attacks on elderly Asians, and vandalism of Asian-owned businesses?
Still, I am grateful for Rep. Winkler’s candor, albeit offensive. It was a gift. His words as an elected state legislator have blown wide-open this conversation about the chronic (until now) dismissal by politicians, the media, and academia of discrimination against Asians.
Today, many Asian-Americans may be seen as the “model minority” thriving in the middle class. Yet, fear of the “yellow peril” — which in current usage refers to the fear of there being too many qualified Asian applicants — allows colleges, such as Yale University, to disproportionately discriminate against Asian students. The Justice Department under President Joe Biden’s administration, which named racial equity a top priority, dropped its case against Yale. Why not let the courts adjudicate the claim, including to dismiss it if it lacks merit?
Could it be that some believe there is a hierarchy of victimhood and oppression among the minority races, and addressing prejudice against Asians is not the priority? Rep. Winkler does. He articulated this, too, when he said, “every immigrant group has risen through and above the blacks. Blacks have always been at the bottom and have remained there, so they are the group I look to on how to judge how people are doing ... every group has been discriminated against, but my focus is on the blacks and I will continue to do that.”
Where is the outrage over these words? Do they not reek of the soft bigotry of having low expectations for the African-American community? Is it OK to consider African-Americans as a monolithic group Rep. Winkler calls “the blacks” who should uniformly be regarded as being “at the bottom”? That is where race-based thinking, critical race theory, and so-called anti-racism efforts have led too many people to divide Americans into competing groups in a zero-sum struggle for validation based solely on race. Race-based thinking is racist.
So, how do we move forward as a state and as a nation? By holding two conflicting truths in our heads.
(1) America is a country where our leaders took race-based actions such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers, and during World War II, forcibly placed Japanese-Americans in internment camps.
(2) America is the only country founded on the idea that all human beings are innately created equal and have the inalienable right to live our lives, make our own choices, and pursue our dreams.
Let’s learn from our past horrors, not regress to repeating them in our present, and continue to strive to reach our common ideal to respect individual sovereignty and empowerment, understanding the truth that it is an ideal and all societies will forever be a work-in-progress.
To this end, we should not let our leaders enact new race-driven laws, such as the proposals for the state to dictate local zoning decisions based on the unfounded premise that current zoning practices are actively racist. The catalyst of Rep Winkler’s cringe-worthy words was the public hearing for these new state powers over local zoning in the Planning and Development Committee.
In the words of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “The essence of America — that which really unites us — is not ethnicity, or nationality, or religion — it is an idea — and what an idea it is: that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.”
From the dais on Thursday, I proudly pronounced the Pledge to “the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I hope the words rang
State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello is a Republican representing the 149th district which includes parts of Greenwich and Stamford.