Alaskan Rep Uses Racist Slur, Pretends It Wasn’t Offensive

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has halfheartedly attempted to explain why he called Hispanic laborers “wetbacks” in an interview.

In an interview with KRBD radio in Ketchikan, Alaska, Young used the racist, anti-immigrant slur to describe migrant laborers who used to work on Young’s farm.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” he said in the interview. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Young issued a statement late Thursday expressing regret for the epithet, but his statement stopped short of a full apology.

“During a sit-down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California,” said Young. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays, and I meant no disrespect.”

Young’s statement did not note the fact that wetback has always been a pejorative term, used to denigrate Hispanic workers as alien and un-American. Its etymology comes from the image it was intended to conjure, one of Mexican migrants who swam into the country illegally, their backs still wet from sneaking across the Rio Grande.

Young may have to make a more fulsome apology to stem the tide of outrage. He was attacked for his slur by Rep Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“He has served alongside Hispanics in Congress since 1973, so he should know terms like ‘wetback’ have never been acceptable,” said Hinojosa. “When elected officials use racial slurs, it sets back our nation and sets back legislators who are seriously working toward real, bipartisan solutions.”

Young was also attacked by fellow Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who called the slur “offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds.”

Young’s comments complicate the charm offensive Republicans have engaged in since President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012. With the Hispanic population in the United States growing rapidly and breaking decisively for the Democrats, Republicans have acknowledged that they must find a way to reach out to non-white voters, or risk facing a long period without control in Washington.

Nevertheless, Republicans also have a difficult tightrope to walk, as their base tends to be nativist and opposed to anything resembling multiculturalism. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost to Obama, was seen as having won his party’s endorsement in part by painting rivals as soft on immigration.

It’s no wonder, given that backdrop, that Democrats pounced on Young’s slur and non-apology, demanding that Republicans in competitive seats denounce Young’s statement. The fact that a member of the Republican caucus feels comfortable using a racial slur in an on-air interview is a jarring reminder that whatever the GOP may be saying about Hispanic voters, there is a not-so-hidden segment of the party that is openly racist, and not even all that sorry about it.


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Image Credit: AFL-CIO


Justin Byers
Justin Byers5 years ago

Wow, have we not grown as a society to understand the importance of diversity in cultures?
What a great example for our youth in acceptance of different cultures. True colours always seem to shine through, and I think Mr. Young's colours just shined as nothing more than a hypocritical racist. It doesn't surprise me one bit, I'm just glad he was stupid enough to show everyone his view on diversity.

Christine W.
Christine W5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Arild Warud

Once you said it,makes it impossible to take it back.

Debbie Fry
Debbie Fry5 years ago

It's not always what you say, but how you say it and the words you use. The hell with the sticks and stones, Words do hurt!

Scot Roberts
Scot Roberts5 years ago

Lindsay....I know what you mean.

Margaret....your post reminds me of a conversation I've had with my dad. He's 89 almost 90 and he was raised on a farm in Kansas in the 20s and 30s. They had these black rocks found all over and they were very hard to break up. They called them "n---gerheads". When he recently wrote a book of recollections of his life to leave to us kids he talked about these rocks and I told him I don't think you want to use that word. He said "That's what everyone called them and no one ever considered it racist, because back then it wasn't racist."

I told him, that's because it was the 20s and 30s in white farm country Kansas and it was filled with people who all thought the same way.......but was, and still is, racist and derogatory.

nancy D.
nancy B5 years ago

so I guess Young would not mind being called a Honky or Cracka.

stewart s.
stewart s5 years ago

Racism has NO fu-king place in politics. It is NEVER acceptable!! But, sadly , the extreme right -wing GOP is full of racist scum. Vote them out in 2014!!

Lindsay P.
Lindsay Partin5 years ago

It's not that I don't get information on politics. I read the newspapers, I watch the news and I read different articles on different candidates. There's just only so much I can take. I just have gotten sick about the whole political thing. I know quite a few racist democrats. I work with them.

Yvonne Taylor
Yvonne Taylor5 years ago

Margret, I am not sure where you grew up, but sure about the people who may have been around you when young. You see, I grew up in Southern California, back then that area had more illegal immigrants than other areas, today they are spread out a little more. Anyway, it was a derogatory term for those who were not so prejudice even then, you may not have realized it as a child and thought it was normal though.

Traci Phillips
Traci Phillips5 years ago

His comment comes as shock?