It should surprise no one that President Donald Trump appears to be the kind of person who asks people who look different than he does where they’re from as code for asking about their ancestry. That is exactly what happened when a career intelligence analyst briefed the president in the Oval Office last fall, according to NBC News.
“Where are you from?” Trump asked when she was done with the briefing. She answered New York. But that wasn’t the answer he was looking for and pressed again. Still unsatisfied with her answer of “Manhattan,” Trump just came out and asked where “your people” are from. When she said her parents are Korean, Trump then turned to an adviser and asked why the “pretty Korean lady” wasn’t negotiating with North Korea. The fact that she’s a hostage policy expert didn’t seem to matter to the president.
It also should surprise no one that Trump is the kind of person who thinks everybody of the same ethnicity knows each other. At a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in March, Trump was surprised none of them knew Ben Carson, the only black member of his Cabinet.
Many quickly criticized Trump for the “pretty Korean lady” remarks. “Another awful story on how Trump cannot see women for more than their looks & only sees minorities as others, not Americans,” Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California wrote on Twitter. “If true, this story that he called a skilled analyst just a ‘pretty Korean lady’ is latest evidence he is unfit for this office.”
She wasn’t the only lawmaker to express her displeasure with Trump through Twitter. Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu reminded Trump that “everyone in in America or their ancestors (other than Native Americans) came from another country.”
For those of us who work in national security and trace our ancestry to Asia, the story is all too familiar.
It’s pervasive. You get asked this all the time. You check your reaction and try to dodge the question as best you can. It’s meant as a compliment, or perhaps innocent curiosity. You move on from the incident, tuck it away in your brain, continue with the briefing. But later, it will bubble up again, and you think about what it means.
It means to some, their mental picture of an American doesn’t include you.