Maybe That’s a Way of Gookifying Them

By Guest Columnist Jul 18, 2008

By Irwin Tang Last week, a reporter informed Senator John McCain that exports to Iran had increased tenfold during the Bush years, and that a great portion of those exports were cigarettes. McCain responded, “Maybe that’s a way of killing them [Iranians].” And then he chuckled. What McCain meant, apparently, was that if we, the people of the United States, are able to addict enough Iranians to cigarettes, we can kill some or all of them. Last year, McCain sang to a crowd of veterans, “Bomb Iran, bomb, bomb, bomb . . .” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.” And then he laughed. McCain claimed after the bombing song that he was “proud” of his rendition of the killing croon. And he responded on national television that if people did not appreciate his humor, “please get a life.” I know I am not supposed to say this. I know I’m not supposed to use the “r” word. I mean, after all, it’s just as bad as the n-word. It’s maybe more taboo than the n-word, because if some people use racial slurs to refer to human beings, we are not allowed to call them the r-word. But here goes. The fact that John McCain can so happily and laughingly joke about killing some or all of one specific ethnic group proves that he is a racist. I’m not basing my judgment on just his Persian-killing jokes. McCain has tallied a lifelong record of fascinating racial biases and their disconcerting manifestations in domestic and foreign policy. Notwithstanding his hiring and endorsing white supremacists and his support for the rescinding of MLK Day and his fighting for the Confederate flag and so on and so on, the one act of racism that disturbs me most is McCain’s use of the racial slur “gook” to refer to Vietnamese persons. After all, I am of East Asian descent, and I’ve been smeared with the “gook” slur quite a few times in my life. “Gook” is a war term and a term of racial denigration. To “gookify” a group of people is to make them subhuman so that one may more conscionably kill, exploit, maim, or manipulate them. Of course the group of people encouraged to use the racial slur to denigrate the “gooks” are also being manipulated, perhaps to kill kill kill. The first ethnic group to be called “gooks” were the Haitians, during the brutal U.S. occupation of Haiti (1910s), during which time Haitians were hunted down and enslaved. The first group to be called a “gook-like” slur were the Filipinos, who were called “goo-goos” during the U.S. conquest of that nation (1898-1903). The U.S. practiced throughout that invasion a more primitive, more deadly form of water torture than it does today. Richard Pryor said in the 1970s that the Vietnamese were the “new niggers,” the new group to be exploited. In the 2000s, John McCain is attempting to make the diverse people of Iran the “new gooks.” And it all comes back to the “n-word.” The Filipinos, out of whose decimation originated the “gook” slur, were originally called “niggers” by the invading Americans. To those with the most racist, violent intentions, we people of color are all “niggers.” We are all “gooks.” We are all Iranians. We are all Vietnamese. We are Hatians. We are Filipinos. We are all black. We are all the same to John McCain, maybe. And maybe he can find some clever, funny-ha-ha way of killing us. But it’s gonna take more than some smokes. I can’t stand cigarettes. Irwin Tang is the author of Gook: John McCain’s Racism and Why It Matters and Asian Texans: Our Histories and Our Lives. See more at