Rep. King ‘You’re Very Good at English’ is Never a Compliment [VIDEO]

steve_king_iowaThe words we say matter. Words are seeded by thoughts. Thoughts link to beliefs. Beliefs influence actions. So, when a sitting congressman tells a college-educated ‘DREAMer’ – a person who was brought to the US as a child illegally and is not being deported – ‘you’re very good at English,’ his underhanded compliment is more than a cute quip or political catch phrase. It is indicative of an insidious jingoistic hatred for brown (and black) bodies in this country, and it is incredibly harmful. 

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) were chowing down at an event in Iowa when they were approached by two Dreamers who wanted to ask questions about their anti-immigrant rhetoric over the years. Sen. Paul’s handler was smart enough to speed the presidential hopeful away from the conversation before he could put his foot in his mouth like he has so many times before. Instead of fleeing, Rep. King stayed and stepped squarely into a massive pile of verbal manure.

In response to Rep. King’s desire to repeal DACA,  Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, the two Dreamers wanted to investigate his stark obstinacy with respect to legislation which directly impacts their lives. Rep. King begins by telling Erika Andiola – an Arizona State University graduate – that she “is very good at English” so she shouldn’t be pretending that she doesn’t understand. He tells her that her “ears work too.” He also asked them if they came from a “lawless country” while his supporters in the background screamed “GO HOME! GO HOME! MAKE YOUR OWN COUNTRY BETTER!” at them. It was the quintessential anti-immigrant scene from every docuseries ever made.

The conversation went on for minutes as Rep. King doubled-down on his condescending remarks about Andiola’s hearing and reasoning abilities. Speaking to her as if she were a child, he spoke curtly and abruptly never giving her humanity room for oxygen. It’s a wonder she was able to remain patient with him for so long. And – like many arguments – it was the combination of what he had to say and how he said it that made his words so sarcastic and biting.

Under no circumstance is noting someone’s English proficiency a compliment unless the conversation is taking place in, I don’t know, an English class. Rep. King knew that when he said it. He just didn’t care. To him, undermining and questioning Andiola’s intelligence was the only logical comeback to her questioning his anti-immigrant advocacy in the House. Without a more logical retort for her line of questioning, he immediately made the conversation personal by criticizing Andiola’s mother, the entire country of Mexico, and President Obama. This is what House Republicans are now offering as constructive conversation on immigration policy and reform.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans continue to struggle with Hispanic and black voters. Conversations like this one and the one Rep. Brooks (R-Ala.) had earlier this week with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham might help elucidate why. It seems like House Republicans are turning into that old bucket in the driveway that keeps breaking down just when you need it; it’s getting harder and harder to choose nostalgia and memories over safety, comfort, and reliability. The hope is that enough conservatives become so thoroughly disgusted with these actions from Republicans that they abandon the party altogether. I, for one, am here for that.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

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