Why Hoekstra Super Bowl Ad is Racist

debbiespenditnowGOP senatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra ran/is running a seriously racist ad against incumbent Debbie Stabenow in Michigan.  It’s not that I don’t understand the point of Hoekstra’s ad – obviously, he believes that Stabenow is pouring money into China’s economy by spending too much, but everything about this ad loses that point because of its over-the-top images  and racial insensitivity.

There is a video embed of the commercial at the end, but here’s the text:

Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spends so much American money. You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow.

Let me point out a few things:

  • The Gong: It starts with a gong.  Yes.  A Gong.  Let me reference the aptly named Oriental Riff entry in Wikipedia: “The Oriental riff, also known as the Asian riff or the Chinese riff, is a musical riff or phrase that has often been used as a trope or stereotype of orientalism in Western culture to represent the idea of the Orient, China, Japan or a generic East Asian theme by Western culture. The riff is sometimes accompanied by the sound of a gong.”  Having listened to copious amounts of Chinese pop music, I can tell you based on my experience that there is a certain lack of gong.
  • FileAodai-nonla-cropWrong Setting: If Hoekstra is trying to insinuate that money is being funneled into China, why is the spokesperson a girl riding a bike in the rice paddies?  This doesn’t conjure images of affluence or wealth – it draws on stereotypes of how people view “Asia” – the continent, not the diverse groups of cultures and countries that make up that continent.  Additionally,  with her white pants, 3/4th sleeve shirt, and hat – this actually conjures more connections with a traditionally dressed Vietnamese young woman.   Despite many years of rule by China, Vietnam is not China.
  • Broken English: Just because the girl is from China doesn’t mean that she necessarily speaks broken English.  English is a global language, spoken by many people throughout the world.  While some might speak it with an accent or not very well, there are also very many people capable of speaking it correctly and well.  Hoekstra argues that

    The fact that a Chinese girl is speaking English is a testament to how they can compete with us, when an American boy of the same age speaking Mandarin is absolutely insane, or unthinkable right now. (Politico)

    Hoekstra must have missed out on this 2007 article of As China booms, so does Mandarin in U.S. schools or perhaps the fact that there are many Chinese-Americans who are bilingual?  Or did he not think of Chinese-Americans when he was talking about “American” boys and girls?

Most of today, I’ve been saying that Hoekstra did not get the memo that we are in 2012 – not 1912.   But the more I let this run through my brain, the more I couldn’t help but consider, who else did not get this memo?  How many people saw this ad before it ran?  Pete Hoekstra did not single-handedly film and air the commercial.  How many people worked on this “script”?  Filmed this commercial?  Saw the ad, approved it, praised it?  How many people were also involved in creating the DebbieSpendItNow.com website that is worse than this commercial?  The website that features “Asian” font, the phrase “The Great Wall of Debt”, and contains images of dragons, lanterns, and tea.  (As my co-worker pointed out, tea is served in England as well.)

The fact that this went from concept to launch (and is still going…) says something to me about a lack of cultural sensitivity and, moreover, a lack of understanding about America.  We are home to so many different peoples and cultures.  I do not see that as a weakness.  Feeding into negative stereotypes about those different peoples and cultures is a weakness.  Such actions reflect a lack of depth, a lack of consideration – especially as a politician that is supposed to represent the needs of the people.

Hoekstra may have thought he was attacking a candidate in his ad, but really he was attacking a culture and its people – a great many of whom live in the United States.