Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dear Americans for Prosperity

Dear Americans for Prosperity,

While I watched videos on YouTube the other day, one of your ads popped up.  Not having the sense to push the "skip ad" button, I watched it the entire way through.  Then I did a double-take and searched for your ad on-line so I could take another look and make sure that you'd actually been as gross and racist as I thought you'd been.

As it turns out, you had been!  You were just that gross and racist, indeed.

To refresh your memory, here's the audio, which is voiced by what sounds like an unhappy white woman.  I'll describe the relevant visuals in a moment:
A broken system failing Arkansas families and hardworking taxpayers.  Now some politicians in Little Rock want to put 89,000 more people onto its rolls and depend on Washington for funding. But what happens when Washington stops paying?  Thousands of Arkansans with less access to quality care.  More control handed to the federal government.  Call your representative or senator.  Tell them to vote against Medicaid private expansion.  It's wrong for Arkansas.  We deserve better.
The racism comes in two parts.  First, the casting.  When I watch your ad, none of the actors seem to be people of color.  I see a bunch of white people.  Where are the people of color?  As this is an ad relating to Arkansas state politics, you might be interested to note that black people, for example, make up over 15% of the state's population, compared to 13% of the population of the country as a whole.  If you're addressing Arkansans, and if you're trying to cast actors who represent Arkansans, then include a variety of the kinds of people who make up the state.  The Arkansas I know and live in is not lily-white.  "White people" and "Arkansans" are not synonymous.

Next, your ad begins commentary on the big, bad, federal government.  At this point, you switch from photography and footage of human beings to computer-generated images.  The image you choose is a monolithic, advancing army of faceless, tall, slender, black men.

Let's examine this.  You didn't simply choose stock imagery of the federal government.  No, you wanted to evoke the idea of an enemy, some evil human entity coming to steal and misuse our money.  Yet you didn't continue to use photography and footage of actual human beings, as you had throughout the rest of the commercial until that point.  That might have been too humanizing.  So you went with computer-generated images of faceless, shadowy figures.

No, not shadowy figures.  They're literally black.  Black men.  Tall, slender black men to represent the federal government, advancing, monolithic.  Threatening.  Scary.  Black men are coming to steal our money, to abuse the system.

Let's be clear: this is racist, and I firmly believe that it's meant to be racist.  We see hard-working, suffering white people just trying to get by, and then we see a threatening army of President Obamas marching forward, bent on destruction.  This is not a coincidence, this is a dog whistle.  It's racist, and it's disgusting.

I've been hesitant about how I identify myself on this blog, but fuck it: I'm a white Arkansan, and your racist bullshit doesn't work on me.  The title of your ad is that "Arkansans Deserve Better," and yes, you're right.  Arkansans deserve better.  Better than this racist garbage, better than your divisive tactics, better than your nasty dog whistles.

Come back to me when you can promote your message without erasing all of the people of color in this state and without relying on your audience's ingrained racism.

Americans for Prosperity?  My goal for a prosperous USA necessitates racial equality and racial diversity.

With love,
Frank Lee

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