I’ve seen this floating around the blogosphere for a few days, and on the surface, it seems indefensible. Rep. Betty Brown allegedly told a witness at a Congressional hearing that Asian-Americans should change their names to make it easier for Americans to deal with them. Outrageous, yes? Well, it would be if that was what Brown actually said — but her words got taken out of context from a conversation about transliteration. In fact, she explicitly explained in the question that she didn’t want anyone to change their name (via Michelle):
BROWN: Any suggestion for us for something that would help the Chinese community, uh, that would be easier on them?
WITNESS: One suggestion off the top of my head would be some type of provision addressing the problem with names. That’s actually one of the most frequently noted problems that happened in the 2008 election, which is the problem with a lot of voters having problems because their names didn’t match.
BROWN: Well, rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language —
BROWN: Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here, since you’re talking about —
WITNESS: Well, —
BROWN: I mean I’m not talking about changing your name, I’m talking about the transliteration or whatever you refer to it, that you could use with us.
Brown has already apologized, and predictably, the Left says that isn’t enough. Based on this clip, I’d say it was too much. The witness broached the subject of problems in matching names, calling it one of the “most frequently noted problems” in 2008 for Asian-American voters. In the conversation that followed, he explained that the lack of clear standards for transliteration (as well as a lack of consistency on the part of immigrants unfamiliar with Latin script) were at the root of the problem. I’m not sure how asking a question about making it easier for immigrants to vote using less complicated transliteration transforms into a racist question.
At any rate, Brown clearly didn’t demand that Chinese immigrants change their names. She asked whether clearer, consistent, and simpler transliteration standards would solve the problem of Election Day name mismatches. It seems to me from the witness’ answer that it might.