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Trump reportedly interrupted intel briefing to ask Korean American, “Where are you from?”

He suggested the “pretty Korean lady,” who was talking about Pakistan, be reassigned to North Korea.

President Trump Signs Proclamation Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

In the wake of President Trump’s comment about wanting to stop immigration from “shithole countries,” NBC News did a deep dive into Trump’s history of racist comments. The piece, published on Friday and written by Vivian Salama and Hallie Jackson, begins with an eye-opening anecdote about a White House intelligence briefing derailed by Trump’s racial issues:

A career intelligence analyst who is an expert in hostage policy stood before President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last fall to brief him on the impending release of a family long held in Pakistan under uncertain circumstances.

It was her first time meeting the president, and when she was done briefing, he had a question for her.

”Where are you from?” the president asked, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.

New York, she replied.

Trump was unsatisfied and asked again, the officials said. Referring to the president’s hometown, she offered that she, too, was from Manhattan. But that’s not what the president was after.

He wanted to know where “your people” are from, according to the officials, who spoke off the record due to the nature of the internal discussions.

After the analyst revealed that her parents are Korean, Trump turned to an adviser in the room and seemed to suggest her ethnicity should determine her career path, asking why the “pretty Korean lady” isn’t negotiating with North Korea on his administration’s behalf, the officials said.

A few thoughts on this anecdote, sourced to “two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange”:

  1. Being interrogated about your background is a kind of ordinary racism that Asian Americans often have to face. One’s boss interrupting a really important work event to do it is, as the Washington Post’s Brian Fung tweeted, “every Asian-American’s worst employment nightmare.”
  2. Think carefully about what the president is saying here. By asking her “where are you from” and not accepting New York as an answer, he’s implying that children of Asian immigrants can never truly be “from” America. This isn’t just simple bigotry; it feels like a rejection of the classic American “melting pot” ideal altogether.
  3. Trump was so distracted by the question of his briefer’s ethnic background that he interrupted a briefing on hostages held by a terrorist group in Pakistan to interrogate her about it. This suggests he wasn’t really paying attention to what she was saying — that racism literally distracted him from doing his job.
  4. Trump’s racism seems to make him a truly terrible manager. There’s no reason that being of Korean descent means an intelligence expert on hostage situations should be reassigned to North Korea, let alone put in charge of nuclear negotiations.
  5. Let’s not sleep on the sexism of calling her a “pretty Korean lady,” reducing a professional woman to her physical appearance.
  6. The intelligence community lags behind the rest of the government on racial diversity and gender equity. It is 10 percentage points whiter than the US government average, per a 2016 survey, and about 5 percentage points more male. This woman probably had to overcome a lot to get to where she ended up, and this is where she landed.

In sum: The president of the United States, the person who’s supposed to represent the best of the country, behaved in a fashion that would likely get a midlevel manager at a company fired. It’s just another day in the Trump White House.

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