Republican Congressman Peter King induced ripples of cringe throughout the nation when he went on national television to say the word "Japs." Ugh.
For the uninitiated, Japs is a derogatory word for Japanese people that developed at the end of World War II. Since then, it thankfully went out of style as a shameful, racist term of the past.
In a sincere attempt to make this slur trendy again, King used it while on MSNBC's show "Morning Joe."
Caricaturing Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump for his lack of expertise in foreign policy, King said, “There’s real issues with him, real problems with his views. I don’t know if he’s thought them through, or if it’s just like the guy at the end of the bar that says, ‘Oh screw them, bomb them, kill them, pull out, bring them home. You know, why pay for the Japs, why pay for the Koreans?’”
Not only did King use the slur unashamedly, he also refused to salvage his reputation and flew into rage when asked to apologize. Speaking with The Hill, he said, "I stand by the merits of what I said. I was quoting the guy at the end of the bar who needlessly offends, who makes snaps decisions and doesn't care, who suddenly says, 'The hell with them, the Japs and Koreans.'"
He also said he will not apologize to Council of American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group that has criticized King's words and with whom the congressman has had a beef in the past.
Much like the man he was mocking, King claims he won't be cowed by "PC culture." He also clarified that with his Irish ancestry, he would not mind being called "mick," a slur for Irish people.
But what King does not realize with all his white privilege is that words are not empty vessels. Many words, especially these slurs, are weighed down with memories of trauma and marginalization and darker times. These slurs are what people used, and still use, to dehumanize others.
If we cannot liberate these words from their ties to subjugation, we shun them, and once abandoned, they are not to be resurrected.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Kevin Lamarque