A Michigan legislator has apologized for “disparaging remarks” that she said she made against an Asian American opponent for state Senate.
The Detroit Metro Times reported that state Rep. Bettie Cook Scott used racial slurs, including “ching-chang” and “ching-chong,” when referring to her opponent, state Rep. Stephanie Chang, during a recent Democratic primary. Witnesses told the newspaper that during the Aug. 7 election for District 1, which includes Detroit, Scott also called a campaign volunteer an “immigrant” and later said that “these immigrants from China are coming over and taking our community from us.”
The incident prompted outcry among the local community.
Scott, who is serving her third term in the state House, did not immediately respond to an email Friday from The Washington Post, but she apologized in a statement through her attorney, Bill Noakes.
“I deeply regret the comments I made that have proven hurtful to so many. Those are words I never should have said,” she said Thursday in the statement. “I humbly apologize to Representative Chang, her husband, Mr. Gray, and to the broader Asian American community for those disparaging remarks. In the divisive age we find ourselves in, I should not contribute further to that divisiveness.
“I have reached out to Representative Chang to meet with her so that I may apologize to her in person. I pray she and the Asian American community can find it in their hearts to forgive me.”
Chang, who won the election with 49.9 percent of the vote, told The Post on Friday that it’s not about her but about “respect for all communities.”
“I’m disappointed,” she said, “that an elected official and colleague would make comments that are offensive to the Asian American community and immigrants and even voters in her own district that she represents.”
The Metro Times reported that witnesses, including voters and campaign volunteers, said they overheard Scott tell voters: “Vote for me. Don’t vote for the ching-chong!” Kalaya Long, a volunteer with Voices of Women to Win, told the news outlet that Scott told one voter: “Thanks for voting for me. You don’t need to vote for that ching-chang.”
Chang’s husband, Sean Gray, told the Metro Times that he heard some of the statements made against his wife and spoke to Scott about it outside a polling precinct.
Gray told the newspaper that he “asked her not to speak about my wife in that manner. At that time she said to the voter that ‘these immigrants from China are coming over and taking our community from us.’ Further, she said it ‘disgusts her seeing black people holding signs for these Asians and not supporting their own people.’ ”
Scott, who represents the state’s 2nd House District, which includes part of Detroit and surrounding communities, is a former public school teacher and longtime police officer in Detroit, according to her bio. Her campaign website states that she ran for state Senate advocating for public safety and increasing funding for public transportation. She came in third in the primary, with 11 percent of the vote.
Following news of Scott’s remarks, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said her words “go against all the values of the Democratic Party.”
“There is no place in our state or our party for bigotry and discrimination,” he said in a statement. “We, at the Michigan Democratic Party, are deeply offended by these statements and the attitude behind them. We expect better from anyone who wants to call themselves a Michigan Democrat. Bettie Cook Scott needs to apologize to the entire Asian American community. If an individual doesn’t share our fundamental values of tolerance, decency, and respect, they should find another party.”
The nonpartisan group APIAVote-Michigan also condemned Scott’s behavior.
“Elected officials should be held to high standards of professional conduct, and respect people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said a statement from the advocacy group for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. “No elected official or candidate for office, regardless of political affiliation, should use stereotypical imagery or language. The use of these stereotypes is counter to the progress our country has made over past decades to encourage respect for all communities.”
Ken Lee, chief executive of OCA, another Asian American advocacy group, said in a statement to The Post that such words “only seek to paint Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as perpetual foreigners.”
“I will continue to be a vocal advocate for immigrants’ rights, LGBT protections in our civil rights law, and solutions that address disparities in our criminal justice system, voting system, and throughout our society,” she wrote on her campaign website.
Chang said she is looking forward to meeting with Scott late next week and hopes that the recent incident can serve as a “teaching moment” for Scott and others.
Chang said she has invited leaders from the Asian American community to join them and speak about “why our words matter” and why it’s important to “respect our Asian American community and all communities.”