Mar 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

NYT: Ohio GOP candidate for Senate once made racist remarks about Asians

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The seal of the United States Senate on a podium in the Dirksen Building on March 3, 2021. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A Republican running to replace Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) used racist tropes to talk about Asians on a podcast in 2013, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: One of the leading contenders in the race, entrepreneur Mike Gibbons made the remarks while citing "The Bell Curve," a controversial book that drew accusations of racism for claiming that racial differences in intelligence are driven by genes and the environment.

Driving the news: The book claimed that "the smartest people in the world as far as measurable I.Q. were Ashkenazi Jews," Gibbons said on the podcast, according to a transcript reviewed by the Times. "And then right below them was basically everybody in China, India and, you know, throughout the Asian countries."

  • Describing a class with "mostly Asians" during his graduate school years, Gibbons said, "It was astounding to me how much they studied, how they were incredibly bright, but they memorized formulas."
  • "And when we ran into a word problem — and you know, I think this is a function of the educational track they put them on — they got lost in the weeds."
  • He added that "they're very good at copying" in a discussion on the Chinese education system, which his co-host claimed did not adequately teach critical thinking, per the Times.

What he's saying: A spokesperson for the campaign of Gibbons, who received a master’s degree at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, told the Times that he was "discussing the difference in educational structure and attainment that he experienced in both business and graduate school in relation to China."

  • Gibbons did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on whether he regretted his 2013 remarks after the NYT article was published, but said in an emailed statement: "The New York Times doesn't get to cancel me or the truth about China."
  • "Donald Trump was right: COVID- 19 did come from China, and China's COVID cover up cost lives around the world," he continued, referring to the former president's unproven claims about a pandemic cover-up.
  • Gibbons accused "the Chinese" of stealing intellectual property, cheating on trade deals and destroying American jobs, without elaborating further. Upon a request for clarification, he specified that he was referring to China's government.
  • He also claimed Beijing was "cozying up" to Moscow and "threatening to invade Taiwan." "Donald Trump was absolutely right to stand up to them and I will do the same in the Senate," Gibbons added.

Between the lines: Gibbons' 2013 comments rely on an old racist trope that assumes Asians inherently excel in STEM due to their race despite the community's diversity. It perpetuates the notion that Asians are like sheep — only able to regurgitate formulas and produce copies.

  • They also invoke the model minority myth, a term coined by a white sociologist in 1965 that falsely claims Asians achieved success despite their status as a racial minority.
  • Experts say the model minority myth adds an undue burden on Asians who feel unable to ask for help because of the stereotype, which puts them in a box. It can also lead to mental health stressors, according to NBC News.

The big picture: Ohio's GOP race has received a lot of attention because of its crowded field and enormous ad spending.

  • Two recent polls put Gibbons and former state treasurer Josh Mandel out in front with a few weeks until early voting begins, Axios' Tyler Buchanan writes.
  • Gibbons is among several GOP candidates vying for Trump's endorsement.
  • Gibbons' campaign did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Go deeper: The centuries-long history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

Go deeper