Why Pete Hoekstra’s Super Bowl ad sucks. And oh yeah, why it’s racist.

At the end of each Ashtanga yoga practice, we recite the closing prayer, also called the mangala mantra.

The line I’m thinking about right now is the second English line: “May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Screenshot of Politico story

Here in Michigan, it’s been a news story over the past week that Pete Hoekstra, who is running for the U.S. Senate — a pretty powerful position as far as political seats go — would premiere a campaign ad during the Super Bowl. I just saw it in the pre-Super Bowl run-up, and was stunned. I don’t normally talk politics on this blog, it’s hard to not say something about this one. Politico offers a good summary, in saying that the ad:

features an Asian female with a conical straw hat riding a bike through a rice paddy field.

“Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good [sic],” the actress says, in broken English.

“Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie ‘Spend-it-now’. Debbie spend so much American money [sic],” the actress says, without a Chinese accent. “You borrow more and more, from us… we take your jobs. Thank you Debbie ‘Spend-it-now.’”

It gets better. Check out the tortured attempt at an explanation from the Hoekstra camp:

“You have a Chinese girl speaking English – I want to hit on the education system, essentially. 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,” Hoekstra spokesperson Paul Ciaramitaro told POLITICO. “It exhibits another way in which China is competing with us globally.”

“I think that China is our global competitor and the facts are what they are. They hold $1.1 trillion of our debt, their economy is booming, ours is not. It’s not a racial overtone to compare yourself to competitors on the global stage,” added Ciaramitaro. “I think the viewer of an ad is going to recognize satire. … I wouldn’t agree of the characterization [of the ad] as racial.”

My father is Chinese and my mother is Thai, and they came to American in the 1970s to attend graduate school. As a second-generation Asian-American, I try to not be knee-jerky reactive when it comes to labeling something racist. I realize part of it is education. I try to take a measured approach and discern whether I am overly sensitive, someone else is overly sensitive, etc. I know this country has come a long way, but I know there’s a long way to. And this ad proves that latter point.

The ad is racist.

For one thing, the Hoesktra camp talks about education system, but the ad doesn’t take place in a classroom. It relies on all the stereotypes — the straw hat, the rice fields, the broken English, the idea that we (viewers in Michigan and, by extension, America) are threatened by this girl, who stands for her entire society (read: race). The accompanying website is no better — and arguably, it’s worse, with its dragons, fans, red doors and all the rest. (Yep, still not a classroom in sight on the website.)

I’m not going to get into the politics of the claims. I will say that fear-mongering and protectionism do not constitute the right path, and the more our leaders go down that path, the more it gives way to citizens who see the enemy everywhere they turn. I’m not saying we should pretend everyone gets along in a kumbaya kind of way. I am saying that if candidates can’t stay on the right path in a commercial, how can I expect them to stay on the right path about anything else — like foreign policy, immigration law, and yes, economic spending. Because if you thought those were well-spent dollars, then I hate to see what you would want to buy if you were elected.

I won’t embed the video of the ad or do screenshots of the accompanying website, but you have to see it so you can decide for yourself. Here you go.

(Graphic credit: Screenshot from the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute website.) 

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