Oklahoma State Senator David Rader, a Republican, is under fire for referring to Asian American families as “yellow families” when speaking to a criminal justice policy analyst testifying before the legislature about the racial wealth gap, KFOR reported late Friday.
In a presentation to the state senate, Damion Shade, who works as a policy analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute, shared information about the history of racism in America and how it has caused a widening gap between white families’ wealth and wealth accumulated by families of color. “I believe [the racial wealth gap is widening] largely because of the multiplying effect that happens with the diminishment of capital over time. So when you are a person with less access to capital, that simultaneously leads you to have less access to education, you have less access to entrepreneurship … and to homeownership,” Shade said.
At the end of Shade’s presentation, the Republican senator asked him a question in which he referred to Asian American families using a racial slur.
“Well into your presentation did you go to yellow families?” Rader asked Shade. “You left yellow families out for quite a while.”
“You mean Asian Americans?” Shade asked.
“You use black term, white term, brown term so I was just gonna jump in there with you,” Rader said, justifying his use of the slur, somehow trying to blame Shade for it.
“I was just making sure,” said Shader. “Making sure I understood.”
“Asian distraction,” Rader replied.
“Asian Americans,” Shader calmly corrected.
“Because their experience has been totally different than many … others that have come over,” Rader said. In addition to using a slur, Rader’s remarks push the false “model minority” myth that Asian Americans don’t experience negative consequences of racism in the same way as other races. The senator then moved on with his questioning to say additional offensive things about black families and alleged that black families were better off and “much more intact” before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Great Society programs.
“The data I’ve seen, the black family was much more intact and much more able to be together in 1960 than it was even 30 years later, 40 years later from that point on,” he claimed, perpetuating the myth pushed by some Republicans that black culture and not racist government policy is responsible for the racial wealth gap.
Rader’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone, but the senator did release a statement to KFOR that did not specifically address his remarks during the hearing.
“I’ve spent my entire life as a football coach and educator, fostering opportunities for individuals of every race and background,” the statement said. “As a legislator, I have continued this important work because I believe each and every person in our state and our country should have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream. As I’ve done throughout my career, I am committed to eliminating barriers that might make the pursuit of that dream more difficult.”
The use of the term “yellow” has an ugly and racist history. The term “Yellow Peril” was used in the 19th and 20th centuries to describe people of Asian descent as a threat to Western values and to justify xenophobic immigration policies that severely limited Asian immigration to the U.S. And with the pandemic — and former President Trump’s labeling Covid-19 the “China flu” or “Chinese virus” and pushing the narrative that China created the virus — the incidence of Asian American hate crimes is rising in the United States. Compared to 2019, hate crimes against people of Asian descent increased 70 percent in 2020, according to the FBI.
Rep. Cyndi Munson, the first Asian American woman to be elected to Oklahoma’s state legislature, said in a tweet that she found his comments “offensive” and “unacceptable.”
“I’m Asian American, not yellow,” she tweeted. “The language used by the Senator is highly offensive and unacceptable. For my fellow colleagues to be so unaware of the words they use & how they might harm people is exactly why we need open & honest dialogue on racism.”