In 1999, I was reading one of the so-called “ethnic newspapers” when I came across an article about John McCain. In the article, the writer claimed that McCain frequently used the term “g**k” when he spoke on his so-called “Straight Talk Express.”
As a serious news hound who subscribed to three major papers at the time, I was interested that I had not heard a peep about this in the mainstream press. So I kept looking. From the dusty resistance archives, found on a floppy disk while looking for something else, we hereby present John McCain and a Tale of Two G**ks (An Illustrative Story about Race Relations in the United States):
February 18, 2000:
“I will call right now, my interrogator that tortured me, a gook,” McCain said. “(I can’t believe that) anybody doesn’t believe these interrogators and prison guards were cruel and sadistic people who deserve the worst appellations possible.”
McCain said he does not consider the comment an epithet.
“Gook,” he said, “is the kindest appellation I can give.”
This demonstrates how McCain does not recognize his racialization of those who tortured him. And please, he couldn’t think of a worse word? Could he say “those fuckers”? But the newspaper wouldn’t print “fuckers,” now, would it? But the term “g**k”–well, that’s acceptable. Hmmm.
According to a March news article, McCain issued an “apology” on February 21:
In the face of mounting criticism, primarily from leaders of Asian-American organizations, McCain on Feb. 21 issued a statement declaring that, “I will no longer use the term that has caused such discomfort. I deeply regret any pain I may have caused by my choice of words.”
“Regret” does not seem to correctly characterize what McCain continued to say on the subject.
The stories kept coming:
February 24, 2000:
As he campaigned in South Carolina last week, McCain, a former Navy pilot who was shot down and held as a POW, defended his use of the term “gook” to describe the North Vietnamese soldiers who held him prisoner.
“I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend some people because of the beating and torture of my friends,” the Arizona senator said last week.
Earlier this week, the McCain campaign sought to soften the comments, saying in a statement that McCain had renounced the offensive language. The statement quoted McCain as apologizing for “all language that is bigoted and offensive, which is contrary to all that I represent and believe.”
In an interview with The Times on Wednesday, McCain said he would not continue to utter the term “because I don’t want to feel the fire.” But he also said he did not view the matter as a misstep.
“You can view that as a misstep if you want to,” he said. “I’ll call sadists and murderers a lot worse than that.”
Here McCain plays on his reputation as a war hero and POW to justify his actions. And if the comments on this article are at all representative of the public, many people feel that he is justified as well. Additionally, why is he refraining from using the g-word? Because of “regret”? He says “I don’t want to feel the fire.” So maybe he regrets being slightly burned, but not that he was lighting the matches.
February 25, 2000:
McCain’s use of an ethnic slur to describe his North Vietnamese captors also arose again Thursday.
On his campaign bus, McCain began to take issue with critics who objected to the term “gooks,” which McCain has employed when talking about his captors. A number of Asian-American groups have called McCain’s use of the term insensitive.
“If anyone was offended,” he said, pausing, “I think it’s really stupid.”
February 27, 2000:
The reporters accompanying him adore the free-wheeling sessions on his bus which, despite the lack of alcohol, have something of a saloon bar atmosphere. As a result, they are more reluctant than they might be to pick up on his weaknesses – like using the word “gooks” for the Vietnamese guards who beat and tortured him.
For several weeks he used the term regularly while talking to reporters, yet even in politically-correct America most were willing to overlook it until the Vietnamese government protested last week.
In South Carolina, addressing another sensitive subject, McCain refused to apologize for using an ethnic slur, “gooks,” to refer to his North Vietnamese captors. But he made it clear that he was talking only about his former guards and not about Vietnamese or Asians in general.
February 28, 2000:
After a town hall meeting Thursday in Sacramento, he was asked about using the slur “gook” to describe his North Vietnamese captors.
“There is no reason anybody should be upset,” he said, adding that his South Vietnamese inmates used the same “appellation” as he did to describe their captors.
Unless they’re oversensitive, of course.
March 2, 2000:
Adding to his problems, Mr. McCain is facing calls from the Asian community in California to apologize for his use of the word ”gooks” to describe his North Vietnamese captors.
At least two groups — the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center and the National Council of Filipino American Associations — want to meet with the Republican presidential candidate when he visits Little Saigon today.
Mr. McCain said he did not plan to address the issue during his campaign stop.
”There’s no reason to. They understand. Many of them were in re-education camps and they were also tortured by some of these people,” he said. ”Look, I have very many good friends who are Vietnamese.”
Ah! The Vietnamese Good Friends! They always come in handy.
The press also compared the word “g**k” to the “n-word.” Except they actually wrote gook and n-word. Why wouldn’t they write “g**k” and “n*gger”? Or maybe the g-word and the n-word? Or why wouldn’t they use the word gook and the word nigger? (I note I shock even myself by typing that out.)
To me this exemplifies how most people learn about race and racism through rote, rather than an understanding of the issues. Most people understand that the “n-word” is wrong. What they don’t understand is that it is wrong because it is a demeaning way to refer to a race of people. Because if they understood that, maybe John McCain wouldn’t have been able to spout the “g-word” for so long. Because, hopefully, you couldn’t say the n-word in polite company and not be called on it.