Biden's Pick for U.S. Ambassador to Japan Has History of Using Racist Asian Stereotypes

Rahm Emanuel said he wanted to adopt an Asian child who could be 'quiet' and 'do a lot of studying'

May 12, 2021

President Joe Biden plans to nominate Rahm Emanuel, the scandal-plagued former Chicago mayor who attempted to cover up a racially charged police shooting in 2014, as U.S. ambassador to Japan. If journalists cared about Democratic politicians being racist (see: Northam, Ralph), this would be a controversial choice, given Emanuel's history of using racist anti-Asian stereotypes.

Then-mayor Emanuel dabbled in some ugly racist tropes during a 2019 event hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. After being introduced by an Asian-American student, Emanuel patted the female student on the buttocks before invoking regressive stereotypes about the Asian community.

"I just asked her if she was up for adoption," Emanuel told the audience, perpetuating the racist mindset experts have described as the "white savior industrial complex." The mayor proceeded to collectively address the Asian members of the audience in an insensitive display of racial stereotyping.

"You're quiet, right? You do a lot of studying, so we don't have to worry about it," Emanuel said, problematically. The mayor was invoking the harmful "model minority" myth of Asians as silent nerds, a stereotype that erases the struggles of everyday Asian Americans and undermines racial inclusivity by separating Asian Americans from other communities of color that are, by racist implication, less quiet and less intelligent.

Biden's decision to nominate Emanuel comes amid a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in Democratic-led cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Biden is also under fire for his continued refusal to address the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes amid the ongoing violence in Israel.

It remains to be seen if the Democratic-controlled Senate, which must confirm Emanuel's nomination, will view his racist stereotyping of Asians as a disqualifying offense. If confirmed, Emanuel's racist tendencies could complicate his diplomatic efforts in Japan, the sushi capital of the world. Emanuel has made clear that he considers raw fish to have a negative connotation—he once mailed a dead fish to a Democratic rival, along with a card that read, "It's been awful working with you."