Pete Hoekstra Airs Racist Political Ad During the Superbowl, Everyone Facepalms

Perhaps you have seen Republican Michigan Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra’s super racist ad aired during the Superbowl. I only have a thousand “UGH”s and “WTF”s in response.

I grew up in Michigan. And after doing some research on Hoekstra, I found out that he represented Michigan for over 18 years in the House of Representatives. This shocks me to no end because this racist ad reveals a startling disconnect between Hoekstra and the state he’s vying to represent (and has represented for about two decades) — by airing this commercial, he’s ostracizing about 300,000 Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) individuals that live in Michigan as of November 2011, according to APIA Vote Michigan. That’s about 3% of Michigan, which is no percent to sniff at, especially if you’re looking to win a Senatorial vote. APIA Vote Michigan later released a statement about the ad:

“It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment. From 2000 to 2010, the Asian American community grew at the largest rate (34.9%) of all racial groups and continues to be a major contributor to the economy in Michigan.”

The problem isn’t so much that he’s attacking the current Michigan Senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow, over her “reckless economic policies that are hurting our nation,” as mentioned on Hoekstra’s Facebook page, but that he’s using a tactic that outright ostracizes people of a certain nationality and race.

via debbiespenditnow.com

The number one racist problem in this ad is that the Asian/American actress’s lines are written with fake grammatically-incorrect tics, and yet she speaks in an American accent. It’s an attempt to make her seem more foreign, but lines like “Debbie spend so much American money” and “your economy get very weak, ours get very good” are not even realistic — I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk like that, let alone people who have spoken Chinese as a first language. Hoekstra defended the use of this actress, saying that she was “100% Chinese,” in an interview with MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell — possibly the vaguest statement I have ever heard. The fact that Hoekstra hired an Asian actress to star in this anti-Chinese ad is the most upsetting — it rings back to the discomfort I felt watching the Georgia anti-childhood obesity ads, where the ad campaign hired an actor of a certain demographic to speak in a way that ostracizes and others people of that same demographic.

With this ad, Hoekstra is alienating people like me, American-born citizens of the US, while continuing a variety of racist assumptions — among them that people who are racially Asian are born abroad (and somehow intimately connected to China and this fear-of-China issue), and that people who look Asian are somehow not going to understand English or speak English grammatically. The other “ethnic” flourishes in the ad are also frustratingly trapped in “Yellow Peril” land — like the gong introductions, traditional Chinese music and the images of “rice paddies” in the background (though, according to POLITICO, the entire ad was shot in California). Not to mention how this campaign has been overly thought out — Hoekstra’s campaign even created a website, DebbieSpenditNow.com, that comes complete with Chinese characters decorating the borders, images of dragons and lion dance costumes and paper fans emblazoned with Stabenow’s face.

via debbiespenditnow.com

Hoekstra later defended this campaign in a statement this past Monday, saying that the ad was not racially insensitive. “The ad is only insensitive to Debbie Stabenow and her spending,” he said, according to CBS News. “It doesn’t criticize the Chinese at all.” Hoekstra also mentioned that the response to this ad campaign has been “overwhelmingly positive,” which prompts me to ask, who has he been speaking to? Seriously? I think we have a case of some severe disconnect between Hoekstra, reality, and the people of Michigan.

The comment seems to ignore how the Hoekstra campaign at first attempted to smooth over the overwhelmingly negative response to the campaign through shutting down the comments and rating system on the video on YouTube and calling the ad “satirical” as if that would explain everything — Paul Ciaramitaro, a Hoekstra spokesperson, told POLITICO that the ad was criticizing China’s educational system, which is becoming “increasingly competitive” because seeing “a Chinese girl speaking English … is a testament to how they [China] can compete with us.”

via debbiespenditnow.com

The baseline of this anti-China anxiety being used in this campaign — where the belief that China is taking over the economy, and its people are even (gasp) going as far as learning English — is uncomfortable to read about. According to CBS News,

“China has become an increasingly common target for political candidates … in the 2010 campaign cycle, the National Republican Campaign Committee ran an ad asking of Indiana Democrat Baron Hill is ‘running for Congress in Indiana — or China?’ … It was one of at least two-dozen spots in that cycle that pointed to China in order to criticize a political opponent.”

Using China (and political candidates’ obvious or less obvious support of the country) as a symbol of un-American principles is a tricky, racialized thing. By associating China with this “un-American” ideal, the backlash extends beyond a nationalistic anxiety and becomes a racialized one, too, that affects Asian-Americans. I’m often asked, “Where in China were you born?” to which I respond, “Massachusetts.” The implication here is that I’m assumed to be not American just because of the way I look and am racially categorized. And big-deal political campaigns using China and Chinese people as a symbol of un-American alienation is entirely regressive. APIA Vote Michigan puts it best when it says that “The use of these stereotypes is counter to the progress our country has made over past decades to encourage respect for all communities.” Word.

 

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Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. She is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, where she studies video games and new media. She is also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out her blog at whitneypow.com and follow her on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 51 articles for us.

24 Comments

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    Every time someone of the majority says that something that they did is not offensive to someone in the minority, I get a bruise on my forehead from the mighty facepalm. You do not get to decide how someone else feels! If a person is offended, you apologize, not try to justify yourself. Clearly, that just makes you look like a bigger idiot. Hoekstra is just one more bigger idiot.

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    How is this okay???? I don’t understand how in the last ten years people have for some reason tried to destroy the last 50 or more years of progress for freaking human rights and equality. I’m tempted to blame Bush though. I’m pretty sure he made the world a lot worse. Also those like 50 people who have more money than the rest of the world combined.

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    I boycotted the Superbowl, then heard about this and it makes me so angry. Have you seen this article about the actress: http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/02/turns_out_actress_in_hoekstras_now_defunct_chinese-themed_site_is_a_beauty_queen.html
    I’m going to choose to see this as a subversive move as a way to get dialogue going, and then she’ll write a really good soc book about how stupid, racist, and xenophobic people are, or else my world will just implode in sadness. Self preservation through self delusion. IT WORKS.
    And this article: http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/08/opinion-the-price-of-yellow-peril/ really hit home too. UGHHHHH.

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    Are we surprised by the blatant ignorance in this ad? The republican party are slaves to the idea that the only way to succeed is if everyone else fails. If women control their own reproduction, babies will become extinct. If homosexuals get married, heterosexuals will catch the plague and die.
    I’m no economist, but I’ve read several articles that suggesting that the success of China’s economy could help pull the US and the rest of the world out of the recession, but the GOP doesn’t want to hear that. It involves crazy ideas like cooperation, compromise and racial equality.
    Unfortunately, what scares me more is that there are everyday people out there watching these commercials who think “Yeah, let’s send him money.”

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    Yeah… that was such an epic fail! I’m pretty sure a single senator’s economic policies aren’t going to control the state of the union. Also, it’s incredibly patronizing to be fed this spenditnow vs spenditnot crap, as if voters are incapable of thinking for themselves.

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    Pete Fucking Hoekstra: “So that’s the superbowl ad you guys, what do you think?”

    Pete Hoekstra’s team: “Ummm”
    “I mean….yeah, the message….the message was there.”
    “Definitely.”
    “Yeah…and the photography…I mean the scenery was…”

    Pete Fucking Hoekstra: “Right?! It’s really what I want to say to the whole of America right now. and…it’s not racist right?”

    Pete Hoekstra’s team: “Ummmm….Like…maybe…”

    Pete Fucking Hoekstra: “Really? Guys, come on! No way! No way, it’s just a clear message about where I stand politically. People will love it. Trust me!”

    Seriously Pete Fucking Hoekstra? I just facepalmed so hard my nose went up into my brain.

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    I don’t understand this? I mean I get that like the Chinese are the evil communist overlords of the world or what ever (ugh fucking racists) but for a Republican to complain about the outsourcing of jobs? THEY ARE THE ONES WHO PASSED THE TAX BREAKS FOR CORPORATIONS THAT OUTSOURCE JOBS. AAAAANNNNNNNDDDDDDD PETE HOEKSTRA VOTED FOR THE TAX CUTS THAT MADE OUTSOURCING SUPER FUCKING LUCRATIVE IN THE FIRST PLACE. HE ALSO VOTED FOR THE WARS AND HE VOTED FOR TARP AND ALL OF THE OTHER SHIT THAT GOT THE US INTO DEBT AND CHINA IS DOING US A FUCKING FAVOR GIVING US MONEY TO PAY FOR ALL THIS CRAP SO THAT WE DON’T END UP IN A FUCKING DEPRESSION.

    I SWEAR TO GOD THAT THERE IS NOT A CAPSLOCK KEY BIG ENOUGH TO EXPRESS MY RAGE AT THESE LYING RACIST SACKS OF SHIT THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN COWED INTO VOTING FOR BECAUSE OF THE LIES AND BULLSHIT AND FEAR THAT THEY FEED THESE PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW BETTER.

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    as an asian-american (not chinese) who likes to see well-designed websites:

    WHO THE FUCK DESIGNED THAT WEBSITE DID THEY HAVE NO CONSCIENCE AT ALL THEy HAVE NO SOULS !!!

    I ALMOST WISH THAT AD WAS SATIRE OR A COMEDY SKIT BUT NO IT ISNT OH GOD.

    oh whoops. i think the capslock fury got into me too. :(
    why is there an endless sea of ignorance-perpetuating republicans?! WHY????

    “a Chinese girl speaking English … is a testament to how they [China] can compete with us.”

    REALLY? DO THEY HAVE NO CONCEPT OF THE WORLD OUTSIDE AMERICA OR do they just like to resort to simplistic ignorance to explain… their own simplistic ignorance? really? it also makes me sad that PEOPLE WILL BUY INTO THIS. whywhywhywhyyyyyyyyy

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