Connecticut officials are expressing their outrage after a state representative downplayed racism against Asian Americans during a General Assembly committee meeting.
Democratic Rep. Michael Winkler made his comments during a Planning and Development Committee meeting Monday.
In an exchange with Greenwich Housing Authority board chairman Sam Romeo about why Greenwich doesn’t have a larger Black population, Romeo said minorities make up 37% of the city’s population.
“Yes, you count Asians and other minorities that have never been discriminated against,” Winkler said to Romeo.
Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, a Democrat who chairs the committee, responded to Winkler’s comment.
“I will just pause just for a moment and say I think that there have been a number of minority groups who have faced discrimination over time, and particularly, I think, in light of what happened in Atlanta last week.”
Sen. Tony Hwang chimed in to call Winkler’s comments “absolutely unacceptable” and demanded an apology.
“Let me be clear, racism against anyone, and bias, is never acceptable,” said Hwang, a Republican.
Initially Winkler stood his ground, saying while every immigrant group has been discriminated against, his focus is on “the most oppressed.”
“Every immigrant group that has come in has risen through and above the Blacks, while other immigrant groups, one after the other – the Polish, the Irish, whatever – came in and rose up. Blacks have always been at the bottom and remain there.” said Winkler. “And so, they’re the group that I look to when I’m trying to judge how well people are doing for the most downtrodden, the most oppressed.”
Hwang said he was “appalled” that Winkler didn’t apologize.
“I’m appalled that you don’t feel a compulsion or an understanding to apologize to Asian Americans that you just disparaged because you believe they have been discriminated less,” said Hwang. “You have never been in their (shoes).”
Winkler apologized later in the meeting.
“Discrimination against Asian Americans is very real. And I never meant to indicate otherwise,” he said.
Attorney General William Tong released a statement Tuesday saying he “cannot believe that Representative Winkler would say that Asian-Americans do not count and have not been discriminated against,” and he called his comments ignorant.
“Let me assure you that Asian-Americans count and the hate and discrimination against us is real, and it has gotten people hurt and killed,” Tong said.
Tong cited historical examples such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the beating death of Vincent Chin, along with the shooting deaths of six Asian women in Atlanta last week.
“The myth of the so-called ‘model-minority’ is a dangerous fiction that for too long has allowed this country to erase and ignore this shameful history. I invite Representative Winkler to seize this moment as a teaching opportunity, to educate himself by speaking to his Asian-American neighbors and colleagues, and to commit to joining me and others in fighting discrimination in all forms,” said Tong.
Winkler shared a statement with CNN saying he’d like to apologize to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.
“My comments are inexcusable, especially with the recent rise in violence against Asian Americans,” he said. “There is a long, painful history of Asian-Americans experiencing racism in this country, and I sincerely regret that I ignored that history and those experiences in my comments.
“Moving forward, I want to work to ensure that I truly understand and recognize the experiences of those who unfortunately know what it’s like to be discriminated against in areas such as work, education, housing and more,” he added.