If confirmed, she would be the first Korean American woman to serve as a federal appellate judge, and only the second AAPI woman to serve on the 9th Circuit from California.
Grassley’s comments tapped into a long history of stereotyping Asian Americans.
“What you said about your Korean background reminded me a lot of what my daughter-in-law of 45 years has said: ‘If I’ve learned anything from Korean people, it’s a hard work ethic. And how you can make a lot out of nothing,’ ” the senator said during Koh’s confirmation hearing.
Presumably, Grassley meant no offense with his statements, crass as they were. His “intent was to be complementary, not to insult anyone,” per communications director Taylor Foy, who mentioned that the senator’s daughter-in-law is Korean American.
Still, the at times violent anti-Asian bigotry that’s loomed over the US over the past year and a half has made clear the importance of not flattening the experiences of marginalized communities.
“Treating all members of a group as the same invites mistreatment when one person can be held accountable for the actions of someone else. It may not be the same incitement to violence seen in other slurs, but it is harmful nonetheless,” she added.
Notably, Grassley’s comments were troubling for another reason, too — for the distance they put between Koh and her country.
In drawing a line around Koh and “her people,” then, Grassley, in his own way, was participating in this narrative. Or put a little bit differently: As Koh sought to continue serving the US, Grassley suggested that, actually, this isn’t her country.