As an Asian American, Irwin Tang has been on the receiving end of the epithet “gook.” It’s often hurled, he tells The UpTake’s Chuck Olsen, when someone means him harm. But what if it comes out of the mouth of a presidential candidate — like Sen. John McCain?
“I hate the gooks,” McCain said in 2000. “I will hate them as long as I live.” A war veteran who was tortured by Vietcong captors, McCain later apologized for the comment, but as Tang argues in his new book, it still matters. The Texas native says that “gook” is “both a term of war and a term of racism, and John McCain is very active in both areas.” The word “goo-goo,” he explains, was used to describe Filipinos when U.S. troops occupied the country, and it morphed into “gook” when the U.S. occupied Haiti. In Vietnam, as in other conflicts, it was used to de-humanize the enemy.
The author of Gook: John McCain’s Racism and Why It Matters, Tang concludes: “If he had used the n-word rather than the g-word — ‘gook’ — we would’ve disqualified John McCain for the presidency immediately.”