Election

Texas Legislators on Both Sides of Aisle Slam Shelley Luther's Anti-Asian Comments

Shelley Luther, owner of Salon a la Mode, speaks at an Open Texas rally in Dealey Plaza.
Shelley Luther, owner of Salon a la Mode, speaks at an Open Texas rally in Dealey Plaza. Jacob Vaughn
Democratic state Rep. Gene Wu’s parents came here as Chinese students, as did his wife’s. When he saw Shelley Luther’s “racist” tweet last week, he demanded that she apologize.

Luther is the Dallas salon owner who’s running for state House District 62 along the Texas-Oklahoma border. She also unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in 2020.

In a since-deleted tweet last Wednesday, Luther enraged many when she wrote, “Chinese students should be BANNED from attending all Texas universities. No more Communists!” She later wrote it’s “common sense” to bar Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members from schools.
For Houston attorney Wu, such remarks are dangerous for Asian Americans everywhere. On top of seeing her comments as “ignorant,” some say they could be a green light for racist behavior.

Around a decade ago, some were more careful to use "clever dog whistles," he added. “I think today, they’ve stopped bothering with dog whistles and are just coming out and saying it."

Some have credited former President Donald Trump with helping to stoke the latest surge in hatred against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The influential Republican dubbed COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” which researchers say fueled a spike in anti-Asian sentiment online.

Racism against AAPI people has also carried over into the real world. Last March, a white man killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, in an Atlanta shooting spree some say was motivated by anti-Asian bigotry.

The danger about labeling an entire group of people as "communists” is that they’re now viewed as enemies and traitors, Wu said. Bigots and racists “don’t give a crap” whether the people they’re targeting are actually Chinese, either.

Wu referenced a 2020 incident at a Midland Sam’s Club, where a man stabbed three members of an Asian-American family he believed were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.”

“If you look Asian, you sound Asian, then you’re Chinese,” Wu said. “Then you must be communist, you must be an enemy, and it’s OK now for us to attack you, because we’ve heard our leaders talking about it.

“They’ve given us the wink and the nudge,” he continued. “They’ve sanctioned this.”

"I don’t think the Republicans in that district agree with this message.” – State Rep. Jacey Jetton

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Luther didn’t respond to the Observer’s requests for comment by publication time. But in a statement provided to The Texas Tribune, she dug her heels in further, refusing to apologize and attacking Wu.

"It doesn’t surprise me that a socialist Democrat who doesn’t show up to work thinks the position that Communist Chinese citizens should not access taxpayer funded state institutions is racist," Luther said in a tweet. "Texas Republicans agree with me on this. @GeneforTexas is an enemy of the people." (Over the summer, Wu joined dozens of Democratic colleagues in fleeing to the nation’s capital in an effort to block Republican-priority legislation.)

Later, Luther again took to Twitter to slam Wu, writing “simping for the CCP isn't cool” and that she couldn’t wait “to kill [his] bills.” To be sure, Luther isn’t the first GOP political hopeful to slam Chinese people. Last spring, congressional candidate Sery Kim said she didn’t want potential Chinese immigrants “here at all,” saying that they “steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don’t hold themselves accountable," according to The Texas Tribune.

“And quite frankly, I can say that because I’m Korean,” she added.

But Luther’s remarks didn’t sit well with some Republicans in the Texas Legislature. Richmond state Rep. Jacey Jetton, who is Korean American, said in a tweet that real leaders understand there’s a difference between the Chinese government and Chinese individuals.
Speaking with the Observer, Jetton added that several of his colleagues agree with him, including Plano state Rep. Jeff Leach. They believe leaders shouldn’t target a particular nationality and should welcome students with differing ideas and perspectives.

Even though he might ultimately align with Luther on some points, this definitely isn’t one of them, Jetton said.

“Right now, I don’t think this is a winning issue,” he said, “and I don’t think the Republicans in that district agree with this message.”

In many cities, hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. Over the past year, one in five AAPI people has experienced a hate incident, according to the website Stop AAPI hate.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter